Pop goes VQA

Having just spent a full experiential week crushing vendemmia 2017 sangiovese grapes between fingers and teeth in the heart of Chianti Classico it’s more than exciting to be home in Ontario in the throes of wine country Ontario’s own ’17 raccolto. Every grape harvest has its challenges, intricacies, twists and turns but the antithetical coming about that has happened in both regions is nothing short of a set of miracles.

In Chianti Classico one of the longest droughts in recorded history threatened to suffocate and desiccate what tiny berries there may have been but an early September deluge filled the sangiovese with hope and a recharge towards quality and even quantity. The opposite happened in Ontario. A full summer of rain and mild temperatures has given way to an unprecedented warm Septenmber and now into October, the continued spell of gorgeous weather means that all parties should be celebrating. A glorious September has done more than save a vintage, it has elevated the quality and stretched the quantity so that winemakers can and will process their grapes into a wide range of exciting 2017 wines.

At a time when wine promotions are happening around the province with great intent and public positivity, the VQA-LCBO pot is simultaneously stirred, a recurring theme it seems in the world we call Ontario wine. The provincial board recently announced that “Ontario wines take centre stage at the LCBO ahead of Thanksgiving. The LCBO celebrates and savours the taste of Ontario. Local favourites featured online and in-store.” The four wines featured are a drop in the bucket of what is both capable and impressive about Ontario wine production so it is the LCBO’s “Taste Local Pop-up Experience” that digs a little deeper.

From Friday September 22nd through Sunday October 15th you can drop by 600 King St. West in downtown Toronto for a joint LCBO-VQA pop-up with an ongoing discovery tasting bar, flight tastings, classes (including life-drawing and chocolate bark making) and tutored events led by sommeliers, product consultants and local winemakers. You can also shop for your favourite VQA wines in the LCBO’s retail and digital store. In fact it was last night only that the irreducible Peter Boyd could be found working the first floor of The Spoke Club with a talk on “how to order wine in restaurants.” VQA wine, that is.

Back in March of 2017 while reporting on the VQA wines Taste of Ontario event I remarked how “new assessments are so important to understanding and gaining new perspective on not just how our (Ontario) wines age but also how they are affected by early reductive environment shock and their ability to change (for the better) after a mere six to 12 months in bottle. The first snapshots are not always the clearest.” The same attitude might apply to what happens when wines are presented to a VQA tasting panel. Only the most experienced palates, best winemakers and a select few Ontario wine cognoscenti can forecast evolution and are therefore capable of making immediate, correct decisions. Left to less experienced hands there are sure to be feathers ruffled.

Related – Fifty ways to Taste Ontario

On the heels of a summer during which VQA Ontario wines were celebrated at the 7th annual Cool Chardonnay conference with unprecedented zeal something is amiss, once again, but this time for curious reasons. An article published in the National Post last week goes on the all frontal attack, in short to the LCBO and long against VQA, the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario. The story contends that the best wines produced in Ontario do not make it to LCBO shelves. It states “all wine made in Ontario needs to pass through the VQA’s tasting panel if it is to be sold at Wine Rack and the LCBO.” The blame is placed squarely on the VQA tasting panel. The equation is simple. Fail VQA and no LCBO for you. Sounds correct but it’s not that simple. The two problems are only connected for the sake of argumentative convenience. As an Ontario wine producer, even if your wine passes VQA it may never be purchased to be sold at the LCBO. Such an equation takes liberties without substantiation. And, as John Szabo M.S. correctly points out, “there’s no law preventing the LCBO or Wine Rack from selling non-VQA wines. In fact, many wines at Wine Rack are offshore blends.” But even this diverges from the point.

Related – How can i4c the future through cool chardonnay?

More important are the questions of taxation in the discrepancy between VQA and non-VQA approved wines and whether or not a wine industry can grow and flourish when many of its makers feel stymied, both economically and philosophically, by a regulatory board they contend tells them what styles of wine they can make. They argue against a panel that carries the authority to send them to the highest level of appeal before granting approval, all the while bottling, labelling and delivery schedules may be compromised along the way. The bureaucracy is hardest on the smallest fries. Some are vocal about wanting to do away with the VQA establishment, or at least the tasting panel and to ask that they just concentrate on regional policing and labelling. Still others would like to see the end of that arm as well. Australia has gone that route, so why not Ontario? There is much talk about this golden era in which foreign wine writers and sommeliers around the world are raving about and drinking wines from Ontario’s great fringe terroir. Ontario is hot and the fear is that if more is not done to discourage mediocre wines that pass with ease and instead encourage risk-taking styles the mojo will be lost and the region be passed up for the next cool climate producer. Is this a fear based in reality?

This story is as old as Ontario wines time immemorial. There isn’t a local writer worth his or her words in salt that has not touched on the subject of the LCBO and VQA. I’ve read the most eloquently rendered articles of sophistication by David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Rick VanSickle, Christopher Waters, Tony Aspler, Beppi Crosariol and countless other excellent scribes about what’s right, wrong, fine and inexplicably deplorable about our monopoly and regulatory provincial systems. Even Godello has touched, broached and breached the subjects. A recent, arguably superficial National Post article by a young writer has caused a minor stir in wine circles though not surprisingly has fallen on deaf consumers ears. There is no new revelation here but I really have to thank the NP writer for her take because for one thing she is a very good writer. She should not feel unwanted if the comments sections remain quiet, nor should the winemakers who feel their plight is falling on deaf ears. I’ve made a living off of being ignored. I’m also not a fan of attacking writers and their work. It takes a great deal of dedication, passion and hard determination to produce such a story. Editors on the other hand are not what they used to be. My editor while I was at Canada.com was an expert in the art of knowing what to print and how to make adjustments for the greater good of the story. The National Posts’s editor was flat-out lazy and yet while the writer’s tirade in crusade against VQA is rife with errors and fact checking inconsistencies (like contending that VQA pumps “inordinate sums of money into promoting Ontario wines”) the provocation has provided me personally with a quick period of genuflection and ultimately, an epiphany.

The average wine drinker in Ontario is not privy to the inner circle of goings on with respect to what is typical and acceptable and how the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario screens the wines submitted for approval, thus deciding the financial fate and economic viability of selling said wines. There was a minor trickle of comment chiming to the article. Ontario Wine Chat’s Shawn McCormick noted “there’s a few facts wrong in the article, but they hit the key point that unless you regularly visit Ontario wine regions, you have a very narrow view on Ontario wine.” Ottawa’s Dr. Janet Dorozynski, Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada noted, “pprovocative title and interesting perspective by a new-to-wine writer but as there are many factual errors NP editor would be wise to fact check before publication. And Ontario is not really so unknown anymore.”

André Proulx pulls no punches. Proulx writes “another lazy criticism of VQA. Cites 2 wineries issues failing to mention most wineries pass sans problem. Fault doesn’t make a wine daring…The VQA has its faults… but I’m sick of hearing the same two stories about Norm and PMs wines failing ” Hidden Bench winemakers states “this article makes it appear that the only artisanal wineries producing terroir driven wines are those who have had wines rejected by VQA.”

It is WineAlign’s John Szabo that really picks apart the article. On the idea that “many of the world’s greatest wines have naturally occurring faults, which are the result of the soils and wild fermentation processes,” he replies “ridiculous statement. Stay away from subjects you don’t understand.” In response to “in other words, some of France’s best wines would not pass VQA certification because their high reductive notes would be considered faulty,” he answers “more extrapolated nonsense.” Reacting to “many smaller Ontario wineries have begun experimenting with naturally occurring faults by fermenting their wines with wild yeast,” he says “you insult many smaller Ontario winemakers, and some yeasts, too. Nobody strives for faults.” And finally, when the story notes “adding conventional yeast to grape juice is a bit like buying insurance.… it can also stifle the terroir of a particular vintage,” he retorts, “countless top winemakers around the world disagree. Faulty tastes homogenize wine a helluva lot more than any yeast.”

One of our most esteemed and leading winemakers Norman Hardie had this to say. “It’s great someone has had the guts to take on the VQA…have great difficulty with the quote from the VQA claiming “one of our strengths of our model is our ability to flexible and responsive to be both winemaking and consumer trends”. .this couldn’t be further from the truth..it is a factual error given directly from.the VQA..says alot about our governing body.” I followed up by having a lengthy conversation with Norm. He contends that his statement is indeed one grounded in fact and I listened.

Winemakers feel they should not be told how to practice their craft or be penalized for pushing boundaries. Anyone who thinks this just isn’t so is not paying close enough attention and likely drinking boring wine. It is also a progressive imperative that winemakers seek ways to break from tradition, rules and etiquette, to challenge norms and traditions, but does a wine have to be a bad boy to be considered the most important expression of a local terror? And what fun or excitement is there is a governing board saying “yes “and “of course” in response to every submission? The financial ramifications can certainly be damaging but what’s so special about being accepted at every turn? Would William S. Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa, John Coltrane, Henry Miller, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jean-Michel Basquiat been half as interesting if their art did nothing to challenge or subvert? Immediate commercial acceptance comes at a price and much harder to those who choose to make a difference. Just as vines have to stress to produce exceptional grapes, so must a winemaker face adversity and suffer for his or her art. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your grapes and drink them too.

In 2011 David Leyonhjelm wrote in Business Spectator, “some believe that Australia’s policy of exporting fault-free but relatively bland wines has done more harm to Australia’s wine reputation than anything that might have been sold without Wine Australia’s approval…The market is a very efficient mechanism for sorting out these sorts of things. It is most definitely anti-entrepreneurial.” Hard to argue against this but a devil’s advocate position would say that undrinkable and or grossly faulted wines made by less than experienced producers can get lumped in with quality bottles in shared categories. What if the consumer was unable to remember one from the other or which was which? Would it not be better to rid the market of the shite before it makes it there in the first place?

After Wine Australia squashed their export vetting panel, wine journalist Max Allen wrote “anybody assessing whether a wine is ‘sound and merchantable’ need to be exposed to the incredible diversity of styles out there: from big, black, overoaked, over-alcholic shiraz to cloudy, orange, amphora-fermented sauvignon blanc, almost anything goes out there in the modern wine scene.” Indeed this is what we want to see, allow and encourage, though in Ontario, can it be done without some form of compromise? It must suck to make a great wine, have it applauded, reviewed with great scores and requested by international sommeliers, only to see it stalled before being accepted by a local tribunal. Something is obviously missing in such an equation but is the full-out scrapping of the tasting panel the solution? Doing so would mean eliminating an identity consumers have come to trust. Ontario wine not only needs VQA, it is VQA. In this part of the world you have to seek diplomacy.

The article in question notes “this is a situation unique to Ontario,” that wines must pass a tasting panel, when in point of fact most appellations make use tasting a panel. VQA continues to carry the function it was built for, just like its AOC, DOCG and VDP European equivalents, with a standard to protect for the greater good of the wine region it has been entrusted to promote. Is it perfect? Far from it. Has eliminating it helped Australia? Sure. Is the free for all system working in South Africa? You could say yes. But Ontario is not a form of the wild west. It’s diplomatically Canadian to a fault and inextricably linked in political and cultural fashions to Europe more than most would like to admit. Bureaucracy is part of the reason so many moving parts manage to get along. The system fails some and more often than not benefits the largest players even while it saves countless others from getting sick, though continued discussion and journalistic discourse will render said governance continuously relevant or perhaps moot, eventually in time.

If as a winemaker you want to forge your own path and make unusual, risk-taking, anti-establishment wines with character and personality you have to be prepared to suffer the financial casualty of making such products within the parameters of an organized and civilized society. VQA should seek a clearer picture so that wines either pass or fail, not string them along if they are just going to pass them in the end. Neither side benefits when good wines are held hostage. That said, when the system weeds out others which are neither curiously subversive nor special then the consumer will benefit. As for ground-breaking winemaking it can take years, sometimes a lifetime and in Bukowski-like cases, a posthumous party for great art to truly be recognized. The system can only change so fast. It’s not realistic, very frustrating and counterintuitive to creativity and productivity to think otherwise.

The VQA system is certainly flawed. So are the AOC and DOCGs in France and Italy. Even Ontario wine industry peeps who have to support VQA’s function and back its credibility could not argue against that statement. The panelists who decide the fate of submitted wines may not always be best equipped to deal with every fleeting snapshot placed in front of them. Even the best make mistakes. Only the most experienced referees and umpires get to work the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB postseason. Same in World Cup, Champions League and Premier League Football. Why not in wine? At major wine competitions around the world only the most qualified judges get the nod. The same goes for the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and Intervin and the latter includes some of Ontario’s finest winemakers as judges. Who’s better to make these decisions then they? Anyone who thinks that VQA’s processes don’t need any tweaking is hiding under a rock.

Illustrious panel @TerroirTalk ready to rock #orangewine @winecouncilont #vqaontario #vqa #skinfermentedwhite #faultsandall #terroir2017

So let’s talk a bit about progress and picking battles. Back in May of 2017 the annual Terroir Symposium was held and the first of three masterclass wine sessions focused on VQA’s new category of Skin-Contact Whites. That it took somewhere between 12 months and two years for VQA to get this far is not surprising nor should it be called out for taking so long. It’s a step. Italy would still be working on it. The hottest trend to grip the wine world in the last five years is indeed a style that has been the focus of winemakers in Europe for centuries but as a PDO (wines of protected origin) it is most certainly a relatively new ideal. You can’t just snap your fingers and expect everyone involved to know what’s going on.

The standards development committee has decided that 10 days is the minimum time needed on skins. Again, it’s a step and after review may soon be adjusted. This sub-committee of VQA made up of winemakers, educators, etc. arrived at “how long it would take to attract the typical characteristics of a skin fermented wine.” The number 10 was decided upon as a “good starting point, but it’s a living document and not carved in stone.” Vineland Estates winemaker Brian Schmidt added “the characteristics of orange wine require fermentation, as opposed to cold soak.”

As the distinction needs to be for skin-contact white wines, John Szabo asks and answers his own question. “What is the fundamental core character? Fundamentally they are about complexity and structure, about the tactile components of wine’s phenolic compounds and tannins. Heat and alcohol rip out aggressive tannins, so whole berry fermentation improves texture and structure. A cold soak gives you the salty component but not the structure you get from fermentation.”

Brent Rowland of Pearl Morissette adds, “Orange wine is not an in between wine, but skin-contact wine is just that, without texture and structure. You need the minimum 10 days to get to that point.” Or do you? But the argument agrees that the extended use of stems and seeds will lead you down that textured road. Just keeping it to stems and seeds you will be shortchanged in certain years because they may remain green, bitter and unpleasant. So more flexibility is needed. Are we just adding a category of trendy wine or are we adding a category of value?

“A small but significant number of consumers are excited by it” admits writer Fionna Beckett. “As an outsider I say why not. It’s a white wine that behaves like a red. A wine made from white grapes but made like a red.” Are they always oxidative? She says they are “white wine but with more structure?” Kind of seems counterintuitive because many whites are laden with texture and structure. So, Szabo asks if skin-contact wine enhances or hinders distinct regional character and what wines would you like to see excluded from this category?” The answer is dominant traits that make wine one-dimensional; but we haven’t set those parameters yet. “We’re looking to weed out flaws, like excessive sulphur, just as with any wine,” says Schmidt and adds Rowland “when you skin ferment white wine they produce glutamate, a precursor to umami. And there is a predisposition to enjoying umami, or not.” Ay, there’s the rub. There is also a predisposition to passing wines through VQA, or not.

Here are my notes on the skin-contact white wines tasted at Terroir in May 2017. After all, what would a post by Godello be without some tasting notes. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously, after all.

Does skin-contact wine enhance or hinder distinct regional character? @terroirtalk #vqaontario #terroir2017

Norman Hardie “Tornado” 2016, VQA Ontario (WineryWineAlign)

Tasted blind this strikes with immediacy in that it presents as so very much like chardonnay of high acidity, not to mention tannin and a Savennières meets somewhere in Alsace like texture and tang. So as varietal pinot gris it does confound and yet this really fine calcareous notion can’t be denied, so there is knowledge in that it would be there regardless. Not technically orange with its (maximum, if even) 12 hours on skins but under the rules of the appellation it more than qualifies as a skin-contact white. With more pronounced and less oxidative fruit than most, without a doubt speaks of its place. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted May 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  @NormanHardieWinery

Southbrook Vineyards Vidal Skin Fermented White, Small Lot Natural Wine 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The first time I tasted this blind (at Terroir Symposium) I noted it to be “vidal-like,” a touch oxidative, of this elegant paste or salve, with notes of green plum and just a touch of grapefruit. The second pass confirms it to be a fine vidal orange wine, with more texture than should or would be expected. It delivers lemon and tannin, plus a calculated layering of ample and enough acidity to carry it along. A fine example. Really mouth coating and so tannic. Takes what was learned from 2014 and 2015 experiments and with VQA category approval in its back pocket, begins the true journey forward. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  @SouthbrookWine

Sperling Vineyards Natural Amber Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

So much beeswax and honey wine attribution. Porcine, delicate and quite elegant for the statement. Plenty of acidity and even more relish. Why not give a little Grauburgunder love to the winemaker for giving the style a shot, and succeeding. Tasted blind at #NWAC16, June 2016  sperlingvineyards  @AnnSperling  @SperlingVyds  @SperlingVineyards

From my earlier note of January 2016:

Ann Sperling is not merely fussing about with natural ferments, skin-contact macerations and non-sulphured, self-preservations. She is learning about winemaking, opening doors to perception and interested in doing things in different ways. Her second go ’round with a natural Amber Pinot Gris furthers the non-plussed discussion and the understanding. While pouring the inaugural 2014 from keg on tap last year at Vancouver’s Belgard Kitchen, it was Sommelier David Stansfield who so succinctly noted “this wine is a raw expression of vineyard, grape, and time.” This gets right to the heart and the crux of the Orange matter, especially within the context of a North American account. Sperling has many supporters in her corner, including husband-winemaker-consultant Peter Gamble, the folks at the Casorso-Sperling Kelowna Farm and Bill Redelmeier at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara. This 2015 is a veritable pink cloud, anti-orange, still so very musty, funky, tanky, with great Sperling acidity and pierce. There is so much exuviation to evanescence and back again flavour. There is feigned sweetness that purposes towards and with gearing second wind into length. How much pleasure is this from and for Pinot Gris? Drink 2016-2017

Cos Rami Sicilia 2014, Sicily, Italy (Agent, SAQ, 12461525, $31.50, WineAlign)

The ornate “orangeness” of the Raimi is patterned and woven across a flat and linear map, introducing itself in a way no other wine can or will be willing to do. Still equipped with this fine acidity but it is the flavours and the texture that cause and solicit so much more sensory approbation, first savoury, then sapid and finally umami. A melted salve of orange skin, bergamot-scented and hazelnut-essential oil secreted beeswax. You gotta get into it to get in to it. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2017  #cosvittoria  #aziendaagricolacos  thelivingvine     @TheLivingVine  @cosvittoria  The Living Vine inc.

Domaine Viret Dolia Paradis Ambré 2015, Vin De France (Agent, $65.95, WineAlign)

Philippe Viret’s orange wine resides in a cosmoculture world, class and category of its own. Cosmotelluric principles, magnetic fields, homeopathic applications, natural preparations and ancient architectural rules destine this so very naturally flat, rusty and rustic wine into a nether world. The coppery blend of muscat petit grain, bourboulenc, clairette rose, roussanne, vermentino and grenache blanc spent 60 days on the skins and with transparent clarity leaves nothing behind. It does leave much to the imagination and requires some metaphysical fortitude, especially because it lingers, long after it has left the glass and the room. As for amber wine it’s as close to paradise as you are going to find. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2017  #domaineviret  nicholaspearcewines  @CosmocultureFR  @Nicholaspearce_  @ledomaineviret  Philippe Viret (Domaine Viret)  Nicholas Pearce

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris “Ponton” 2016, VQA Ontario, Canada (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Unlike the Tornado, Hardie’s Ponton is the most Rosé like in this newly created skin-contact category. It’s pink and rosey, of great acidity, salinity, regional limestone and even liquid dusty. In its quantifiable sapidity and wispy lime-zippy personality it could actually pass for riesling and having spent up to and only 10 days on skins this continues to state such a case. The number is actually nine days in cold soak and then it began fermenting, so really just one day of fermentation to confound the category, then put into barrel. The natural fermentation and zero adjustments add up to this, neither white nor red, but comfortably in the land settled between. A clear and focused SCW in the natural world. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017

Pyramid Valley Vineyards Growers Collection Kerner Orange White 2015, New Zealand (Winery, WineAlign)

This Kiwi skin-contact blend almost smells like Icewine what with its tropical, exaggerated fruity nose but conversely and impossibly bone dry despite that aromatic sweetness. Kerner is the vineyard and its actually a one month on skins ferment of pinot gris, gewürztraminer and riesling. Tres cool. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted May 2017  pyramidvalleyvineyards  @pyramidvalleynz  @PyramidValleyVineyards

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Blu 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The amphora (qveri) fermented Cuvée Blu makes use of 100 per cent whole cluster chardonnay in blend with pinot gris, riesling and (in 2016, sauvignon blanc). This singular, go it alone fantasy spent three and a half months on skins pressed and aged in foudres. It may just dance with the funkiest R & B gait of them all and to the semi-trained noggin can only be Pearl Morissette. The risk taken here is done without fear, into sheep’s milk, unwashed rind, saline, earth-crusted, stoned immaculate. The accumulation of glutamate-umami-polyphenolic-brettanomyces and volatile acidity takes it to great lengths and yet all this might disappear around the next aromatic corner. So much interest and so playfully dirty at the same time is this geekiest of them all, whole bunch, aged in 60 year-old (Alsatian) oak vats SCW. The numbers show 14 per cent abv, though it’s not yet in bottle. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted May 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué Skin Fermented White 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Though Brian Schmidt’s floral chardonnay “experiment” might be considered the simplest and easiest of Ontario’s “orange” wines that is only because it’s so bloody delicious to consume. The character is rusty and textured and in a way tastes just like warm iced tea and all the tannic variations that come from such a profile of flavour. This chardonnay musqué spent 55 days on skins and in turn developed its tannic backbone though it seems to have lost its intrinsic chardonnay character. That said it soaked up its Bench terroir so if something is lost much has been gained. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted May 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  @winery.vinelandestates  Brian Schmidt

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Trail blazing in Prince Edward County

It was December of 2016 when I last sat down to taste with Mackenzie Brisbois of Trail Estate Winery. With the first year anniversary of her inaugaral wine release having recently passed and the 2017 (Prince Edward) County in the City tasting coming up this Thursday, it seems as good a time as ever to revisit and publish my tasting notes on her multifarious ’15s. I had previously tasted a 2015 group of skin-contact riesling and sauvignon blanc in April 2016.

Related – No County for old wines

Brisbois’ concentration bordering on infatuation incites a summons to contest with the fruit reaped out of two Niagara vineyards, one farmed by Ed Hughes on the Lincoln Lakeshore and the other by Craig Wismer from his Wismer Vineyards Foxtrot Block on the Twenty Mile Bench. While time develops Trail Estate’s plantings in Prince Edward County and the fruit that will eventually come, these iconic Niagara Peninsula plots more than suffice and for what Trail Estate needs to say today. In fact I don’t envision Mack Brisbois moving on from these two sites any time soon, what with her triumvirate expressions focused on skin contact, wild ferments and barrel aging. It seems that riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, these vineyards and the Brisbois experimental style were all made for one another.

Which elicits my response to the question you are chomping at the bit to ask. Come on I know it’s what you are thinking. Why are these wines so expensive? Why pay $25-$35 for Niagara fruit bottled in Prince Edward County? Why pay a premium for speculative and probationary wines from a small up and coming estate not yet on the commercial radar? For any Ontario wine for that matter? These are all good, valid and ignorant questions.

First of all, these wines are made in minuscule quantities by a small group of passionate, risk-taking, acumen-exceptional people. The fruit is expensive, whether it travels three hours east from Niagara or not. Great winemakers to be have to hone their craft on something while they wait for their own gardens to grow. A rock star in waiting will earn stripes by purchasing fruit and turning water in wine. Most important to remember is the honesty of what’s inside their bottles, how in spite of their experimental nature they are so f-in clean, pure and drinkable. It’s also amazing to note that Brisbois is fully cognizant (and readily forthright) about the mistakes she made (and allowed others to make) in growing, fermenting and finishing these wines and how she would correct them going forward. These wines represent just the tip of her proverbial winemaking iceberg, of what’s to come when she gets really, really good at this. Not that she isn’t already but risks, mistakes and epiphanies will all combine and conspire to lead her and her labels to greatness. Are you reading me?

Here are the six wines tasted with Brisbois on that early winter’s day.

Trail Estate Chardonnay Musqué Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

The sourcing is 100 per cent Niagara fruit that was previously allotted to the estate’s Vintner’s Weiss, here with six months extra wait time (in very old 500L barrels). Typically potpourri floral with lemon zest spritz in the air but also masculine musky. Not so strong like the passing herd of Ovibos moschatus but it’s there. The palate is all tight turns down tart alleys, fleshy and rippling. The textural breadth is key to keeping this Musqué from turning medicinal because a return to the aromatics finds expression in language often spoken by gewürztraminer or viognier. The talk of Muscat, or Musqué. There were 64 cases produced. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted December 2016

Trail Estate Riesling Barrel Ferment Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

Mackenzie Brisbois spins some old world order on her riesling from Niagara’s Foxcroft Vineyard. It begins like every other in stainless steel but is then transferred to old 500L and 225L barrels, travels over the full malolactic threshold and is finally bottled unfiltered. This is not exactly a rogue approach but it is certainly throwback experimental. Is it an atypical, mad scientist outtake? Perhaps. But it is less unusual than her previous skin-contact series, invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl rieslings. In 2015 there is an amalgamated, pretty little funk, and lemon like you’ve not nosed before. At once expectedly oaky (in an old way) but now settling down, beautifully arid, preparing the nest for a life of comfort. The stoic nature of riesling is acclimatized with a meagre 1.5 g/L of RS and indiscernible sulphur. Was bottled in November. Timbered Trocken at its finest. A total of 125 cases produced. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted December 2016

Trail Estate Chardonnay Unfiltered 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

A blend of vineyards, from Ed Hughes and (Wismer) Foxcroft, perhaps with some influence under the lingering auspices of the Norman Hardie school, here in the playful and progressive hands of Mack Brisbois. Mackenzie employs no sulphur at processing, allowing for chardonnay efficacious and liberally oxidized, settled, cold stabilized, non bentonite-affected, chilled and racked. Not lost is the ever-commented process of going at it with wild ferment, but also caution thrown to the wind via no temperature control (but yes on the Hughes fruit), with the final end game in search of and wanting a fruity Chablis side. Done up in half stainless plus 50 old 500L and two 225L barrels. The sulphur was added in October, the full malo achieved and then bottled in November. All of this technical mumbo-jumbo to say there is still quite a creamy, leesy, oaky feeling but like some others in Niagara (Robyn’s Block, Oliveira and Aberdeen) it totes great palate texture and a “fruitiness,” but it’s not fruity. It may not recreate the Chablis fruit to mineral purity but it is a righteous, proper and Niagara purity fashioned in PEC. There are 266 Cases. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted December 2016

Trail Estate Riesling Wild Ferment Ed Hughes Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

This off-dry riesling was de-stemmed and steeped under 24 hours of skin contact, pressed and wikked by wild ferment. “Stopped on taste” notes winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois which turned out to be off-dry, at 19 g/L of RS. The skin contact confuses the perceived sugar levels “so if the mark was breached, so be it. I just realy liked where it was at.” Besides, the wine did it’s own thing, essentially, by and by and in presentation of itself. A very Mosel nose with no aromatic sweetness really and acidity to temper the sugar crawling across the palate. Carries a concrete feeling despite the stainless regimen and nary a tropical fruit or custardy cream moment intrudes. The orchard meets late August Niagara stone fruit is all that concerns. Darn delicious riesling. There were 120 cases made. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted December 2016

Trail Estate Baco Nouveau 2016, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

More than OK I must say about this baco noir of resolute and absolute crush ability. Whether against or not against her will I cannot say but Mackenzie Brisbois must be the first to commercialize the musky and foxy hybrid in such a way, with carbonic maceration plus yeasts for eight days and the sugar arrested at at 5 g/L. TE released this antithetical BN on on Nouveau day but there were only 30 cases made. It is without a doubt the prettiest of nouveau and of all the bacos ever. There is no fizz, no re-ferment and it is very drinkable. A stable, dark fruit vetted, better than many gamay, thirst-quenching drink. A South African Jurgen Gouws Intellego meets Jacques de Klerk Thirst by way of baco noir in Prince Edward County. Fun, juicy, easy. Well done. Drink 2016.  Tasted December 2016

Trail Estate Cabernet Franc Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Barrel Sample)

Not bottled yet, this mason jar barrel sample is from a Wismer single-vineyard (Foxcroft). It will be pulled from (one new of six and the rest 13s and 14s) barrels this coming week but as of yet unsulphured it already has that slightly sulphured and coarse filtered feeling. Beautiful dark fruit has aromatically blossomed from being open a few days and this really speaks of of that rarely achieved Niagara cabernet franc imposiibility.  Soil-clay funky, so pure and precise. Carries that feign of sweetness, low alcohol, depth but so not heavy and plenty of spice. There will be 100-120 cases. $30ish.

This extrospective @TrailEstateWine #cabernetfranc ’15 by @MackBrisbois…wait for it.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Six Canadians in VINTAGES February 6th

I call it the Godello. Caesar @barquebbq with smoked chicken, brisket and pulled pork.

I call it the Godello. Caesar @barquebbq with smoked chicken, brisket and pulled pork.

Next Saturday the VINTAGES widget scrolls out the February 6th release with yet another consistently same as two weeks before element of interaction. The familiarity breeds calm and contentedness with the comforting thought of “you know what to expect and you know what you’re going to get.”

What you will be gifted are six right proper Canadian releases, two from British Columbia and four from here in Ontario. Here they be.

Cave

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $16.95, WineAlign)

A good vintage for the unwooded, floral Musqué with a bit more lit wax than previous incantations. Lots of lemon here and good texture. Always trust Cave Spring to make hay from the singular and singled out Musqué. Good, spicy finish. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted January 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Sue

Sue Ann Staff Loved By Lu Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (322636, $16.95, WineAlign)

Classic, genre verbalizing and focused Niagara Peninsula Riesling that, despite and with purposefully fun kitsch in nomenclature, will love you. Know this. You will love it too. Just the slightest spritz and moscato-like florality is nothing but fun and light, in tenuity of being and in temperament. It stands to say if this lover does not make you sing “hit me with your (Riesling) stick, hit me, hit me,” I’m not sure what would. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted January 2016  @SueAnnStaff

Mega

Megalomaniac Narcissist Riesling 2014, Edras Vineyard, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (67587, $17.95, WineAlign)

Past attempts out of Edra’s Vineyard have not struck a found balance between arid, tropical and bitter behaviour. In 2014 something changed. First, waves of delicacy and pierce. Second, aridity and copious, blessed, halcyon bitters. Third, a grant of grape tannin and gifts recalling the fruit of trees, their seeds and pits in full on ripe drupe. Would like to say “where did this come from,” what happened in 2014, but we know. Edra (Thompson’s) Vineyard and the finishing skills of new winemaker Sébastien Jacquey in his first blending work at Megalomaniac. The 2014 shows that this vineyard block at the back of the property is a haven, a bastion, a plot of regard to make such a complex Riesling specimen. Future releases may see it dropped from the label. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted January 2016  @MegalomaniacJHC

Tin

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (904185, $18.95, WineAlign)

Repeat ripe Okanagan Gewürztraminer from the Tinhorn Creek gang but in 2014 with a dirigible spotlight of consciousness elevated to heights where the air grows thin. Blessed by its own unparalleled funk 49 reflexology, with a twang like a bend on a good old fashioned 59 Esquire. Turns weighty and beautifully pungent when reflected upon by taste. The solo plays in semibreve, as does the long, slow, fading peace out. Gewürztraminer “out all night, sleep all day…what you try’n to hand me?” Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted January 2016  @TinhornCreek  @SandraOldfield

Red

Fielding Red Conception 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (189183, $18.95, WineAlign)

Quite seamless for the amalgamation. A bid red machine if you will, not the shortstop alone but the whole squad. The varietal grand schematic is well integrated in ’12 and will be appreciated by those with wishes for equality between fruit, acidity and tannin. It’s that simple, isn’t it? Drink 2016-2018.   Tasted January 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Owl

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585737, $39.95, WineAlign)

Though I can’t say for certain that this ’12 Merlot smells and exudes the Sonoran, northern, sage-brushed desert more than just about any B.C. wine to date, I’ll say it anyway and again, even if I have said it before. A dry heat and a whip-crack of pepper that just kills it for Merlot brings game and creates an air of excitement. There is fruit, copious fruit, glorious fruit. Some kind of dense sweetness permeates the palate and the finish goes all herbal on the backside. Full on west coast affair. A top B.C. Merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted January 2016  @BurrowingOwlBC  @LeSommelierWine

Good to Go!

Whites after Labour Day

September salad

September salad

What is the only way to tell the difference between a wine geek and a wine snob? A geek will not drink just anything but will taste everything. In the name of science, of course.

Silly high society rules, like not drinking whites after Labour Day are the wine equivalent of late 19th century fashion precepts and as ridiculous as they may seem, you just can’t make this shit up. Just ask Google.

The first VINTAGES release of the new year (on the Hebrew calendar) or depending on your angle, the last of the summer (preceding Labour Day), is rich with excellent whites. There are 15 choices from September 5th that I highly recommend. Get them while they and it, are hot.

From left to right: Old Vines In Young Hands White 201, Dr. L Dry Riesling 2014, Domaine La Haute Févrie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, Flat Rock Riesling 2014, Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2014 and Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: Old Vines In Young Hands White 201, Dr. L Dry Riesling 2014, Domaine La Haute Févrie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, Flat Rock Riesling 2014, Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2014 and Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Old Vines In Young Hands White 2013, Doc Douro, Portugal (424374, $12.95, WineAlign)

Young winemakers, a country’s support, a new vernacular, simplicity and imaging in ode to old ways. The packaging and the intent is spot on. The wine follows suit. Arid, saline, savoury and elemental, like QBA Riesling or Peloponnese Kidonitsa. I’m digging and buying the style, both in clean winemaking and in appeal to a whole new world. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @MichaelAndBrand  @winesportugalCA

Dr. L Dry Riesling 2014, Qualitätswein, Mosel, Germany (409680, $13.95, WineAlign)

Another sock it to me Dr. L, straight up, spot on, exactly what it purports to be. General index of Riesling expression. Read it, use it as a reference, calibrate your palate to where you want to go. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted August 2015  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines  

Domaine La Haute Févrie Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2014, Ac Loire, France (390625, $13.95, WineAlign)

Perfectly, typically, ostensibly and decidedly Melon for what it’s worth. The sea, its salt, a briny shell and crisp acidity for what ails. Simple, slightly spritzy, a touch balmy and ultimately refined, when cooled, with a mess of sea creatures. Odelay, “of elevator bones and your whip-flash tones.” Where it’s at. At your beck and call Muscadet. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @LoireValleyWine  @oenophilia1

Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Wo Elgin, South Africa (203877, $14.95, WineAlign)

Striking Sauvignon Blanc, minted by a flinty beginning, with perhaps the highest discernible level of sweet gooseberry on the nose that has ever been measured by the olfactometer. Hard to imagine such an inexpensive Elgin white to be so dramatically forthright in smile and open arms. Grapefruit of the pinkest, ripest most juicy crunch burst into flame flavours well-defined, not overbearing, properly bitter and in reprise, like a bite into juicy citrus with just perfectly ripe acidity. A new benchmark for value Sauvignon Blanc in South Africa. Raises the bar folks. Look to Elgin. Ask the producers to plant more. Impossibly long SB finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted August 2015  @ThelemaWines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @EpicW_S

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

As good as 2013 is a vintage for Niagara Chardonnay, relatively speaking it may be an even bigger quality boon for the aromatic Musqué. The level of depth, breadth and weight in this Cave Spring is new and improved. The florals are heightened, as if bottled in eau de. The parfum is an intoxicant and the flavours compressed, like roll up, like a Musqué napolean, of peach, plum and pear. Who knew? A fall necessity. Better than before. Drink 2015-2017.  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

From my earlier note of May 2o15:

Produced from the 77 clone, the vintage has heightened the high herbal and feigned sweetness aromatic pastis. The palate is extraordinarily viscous, with Yellow Muscat and Gewürztraminer attributes, not so out of the ordinary considering Cave Spring’s older world execution. Drives from lemon to mandarin, through almond pit and into peach. Always solid Musqué.
Last tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)

Talk about bottled up compression. Twist the screwcap and thwop! The cap nearly popped like a Champagne cork. This baby has energy and drive. The vintage is compressed and pile-driven as nosed by the density opposed by reticulated 9.5 per cent alcohol. This has Mosel tattooed on its being, from neck to bottom. A dead ringer for fine Kabinett, the tropical fruit in apricot and dragon reaching back to join Ontario, in apple and pear. A good flinty stone and raging acidity combine forces to exaggerate a Riesling reticulum in what is not the missive’s greatest ever vintage. Will live five to seven easy and just go for soda. Go ahead and quaff the hell out of this one, from 2015-2020, from bottles one through twelve. Tasted March 2015  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  @brightlighter1

Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2014, Pdo Santorini, Greece (47985, $18.95, WineAlign)

A weighty Assyrtiko of breadth and gumption. The varietal salinity found virtually nowhere else is omnipresent and yet different of fruit in the hands of Boutari. Opulence beyond the Santorini norm and yet held back as if to say, “not yet, not yet.” There is a cool, wet patina as if by ruins slowly grown over at the bottom of the sea. A white swath of scraped rock paints the middle palate and is not removable. Can’t go wrong with a chilled bottle and a gaggle of calamari on the grill. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted August 2015  @boutari  @KolonakiGroup  @Santoriniwines

Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Burgundy, France (424655, $19.95, WineAlign)

Flint meets reduction in a Saint Bris plugged in both ways, AC/DC. Sauvignon Blanc of dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Quite savoury, spicy and cool up the nose like mint and eucalyptus ointment. Serious and strong, like Aligoté but with more verve and natural musculature. No shrinker here and very long, juicy and crazy for acidity. Such expression is rare for the hallowed if needfully paid further attention appellation. Show up anytime at my place with a bottle of Saint Bris, “We’ll have ourselves a ball.” Drink 2015-2018. Tasted August 2015  @BourgogneWines  @VinexxCanada

From left to right: Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009, Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013, Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012 and Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne 2005

From left to right: Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009, Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013, Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012 and Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne 2005

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario (268342, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sunlight is the key to this ripe Chardonnay, snatched from vines that grow on the most easterly of the Niagara Escarpment’s sub-appellation. Here Henry of Pelham calmly puts its hegemony over Short Hills Bench Chardonnay on display. The fruit layering is very impressive, compressed even, with just a spiced spirit injection from the barrel. The Estate Chardonnay is in a mid-range class of its own, this gatherer of heat days, hoarder in spring water retention, cleanser in sand and gravel drainage. The vintage just seems perfect for this niche bottling, balanced, primed to finespun texture, stretched for length and good to age at least five years.  Last tasted March 2015  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (409680, $21.95, WineAlign)

Blue slate in deep soil and steep, southwest-facing slopes elucidate the Graacher Himmelreich enterprise, quite possibly the most personal vineyard in the Mosel. Autonomy, astronomy, autocratic assuage and elemental tyranny are not for the Riesling faint of benevolence. The Studert Prüm Spätlese from the GH vineyard in 2009 is so very stubborn, stark and austere like matches struck on rocks, rocketing flares as if in a sci-fi action scene. It is possessive of a full, sweet and medicinal palate and enough energy if not the most balancing of acidities ever paired with the flint and the petrol. Good bitters and exceptional length will lead to many years of marbling evolution. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted August 2015  @StudertPruem  

Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (424648, $22.95, WineAlign)

If a Niagara Sauvignon Blanc could be endeared with the term ‘calcaire,’ Rene Van Ede’s Limestone Vineyard would lead the shortlist, not only because of the eponymous vineyard but because it oozes of the rock’s chalky chafe. Plenty of orchard fruit belies the lime, in an unoaked Chardonnay way and the wine makes full use of limestone’s hematic shed. This is one of the most stylish Sauvignon Blancs made in Canada, even if the average consumer were not able to recognize it as such. A winemaker from Sancerre would know it immediately and intuitively. Here a crushed reef of limestone memory permeates the wine from beginning to end. One of the more outstanding Sauvignon Blancs made in Ontario to date.  Tasted January 2015   @RedstoneWines

Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2011, Ac Alsace Grand Cru, France (686451, $24.95, WineAlign)

Arid and direct, quite an ascending Pinot Gris, with almost unfindable residual and yet not the most distinct Grand Cru you are ever going to ponder. Has more weight and sweetness on the palate which tends to lychee, pineapple, apricot and lemon pith. Proper old school Mambourg. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @ProfileWineGrp

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

A best of both worlds Chardonnay; indicative of the giving vintage (in quality, not quantity, prestige, not prosper) and an Estate, house style with some cosmetics to enhance the consequence. Really typifies and explains what a Marlize Beyers Chardonnay is. Elegant, stylish, with perfect skin, tones, understated beauty and the soft vernacular of few yet precise words. The texture and feel of this Chardonnay is downy, lacey and so very understated. You simply can’t take your eyes off its charms and your palate away from its soft feel. A wine of character and poise. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @LeSommelierWine

Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (416057, $38.95, WineAlign)

Prudently flinty Vau de Vey, full of rocks, stones, cragges, broken pieces and slices of pure limestone. Such struck sensation could go too far but here it rises and lingers, tickles, fancies and plays, never bothering or acting with distraction. Quite remarkable and gentle of handling. Softer on the palate but still the limestone beats, with bitters. Just not enough circulating acidity in the end. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted August 2015  @DomaineLaroche  @BIVBChablis  @Select_Wines

Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage Champagne 2005, With Gift Box, Ac Champagne, France (280461, $219.95, WineAlign)

Surprisingly waxing en route to the oxidative side yet suspended in crystal animation. Apperceive the level of concentration, finesse and poise, a trinity of DPVBC not to be tested. These are serious, brooding, executively organized and effected bubbles. They are the real deal and they are not for everyman, either by price or for pleasure. They do not effect change or progress but they do speak of what has been, has worked and will not soon see any arresting waver. Another what it is moment in iconic Champagne. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted August 2015  @MoetUSA  @ChartonHobbs  @Champagne  @ChampagneBureau

Good to go!

https://twitter.com/mgodello

http://www.winealign.com/profile/2058-mjg

Master classes of Terroir

A Gamay Masterclass, Terroir Hospitality Symposium, May 11, 2015, Arcadian Court

A Gamay Masterclass, Terroir Hospitality Symposium, May 11, 2015, Arcadian Court

The Terroir Hospitality Symposium took place on May 11, 2015 at Arcadian Court in downtown Toronto. The one day food and wine colloquium was a massive simmering feast set in sprawling fashion within an undersized, intricate urban labyrinth. Despite the frenzied and condensed action in the downtown venue, that congress merely offered a look at the tip of the proverbial Terroir iceberg. With upwards of 3o team members leading the charge, the movement left the big fat city address and trekked to set up shop at a local farm and out to the rock at the eastern outermost edge of the country. Terroir moves outwards, onwards and upwards, taking it to the fields and the oceans.

The Terroir Best Practice Culinary Mission went to St. John’s, Newfoundland from May 14th to 17th. The One Fish expedition travelled “to meet fishing industry experts, to explore and examine both the history and the current realities of an Atlantic community built on an economy of the fishing industry.” There was also “the feast that keeps on giving,” at which the Feast Ontario team was hosted at Grandview Farms in Thornbury, Ontario

Led by Founder & Chair Arlene Stein, Vice Chair & Awards Rebecca Leheup, Terroir Talk the dextrosinistral/sinistrodextral enterprise is an undertaking of the extreme variety.

A look at #Terroir2015 in images

Terroir is an event, a series of gatherings, a notion, a philosophy and a way of life. Its mandate is this: “Terroir Hospitality brings together innovative and creative influencers from the field of hospitality, including chefs, food and beverage experts, writers and business leaders.” It’s also not without detractors. There are some who feel it is a negative representation of the culinary and cultural scene in Toronto. That it’s “white, urban, Euro-centric. It ain’t Canada, or 2015. Not funny.”

If the list of participating speakers, chefs and winemakers had been correlated with shortsighted discrimination, ill-curated and preordained with exclusive, malice prepense, you would have been hard-pressed to get an interview with any guest who would have chosen to speak about the called-out lack of representation or narrow-minded decision-making. If the culture and the colour of the event needs to change it will do so with holistic bias and sympathy, with the right sort of urging from the global culinary and vinicultural community. If the pundits are correct, future sessions will reflect the will of the people. In 2015, the atmosphere was wholly copacetic.

The 2015 Terroir wine sessions were marshalled with “an effort to raise the academic standards of the wine side of our symposium,” in three assemblies, to educate and entertain. These Masterclass jams, Gamay, Terroir, and Clone Wars were coordinated by Good Food Revolution’s Jamie Drummond and Magdalena Kaiser with great support from Wine Country Ontario.

The connection between food and wine is an intrinsic one. They are like chicken and egg, contrary to reason in electing which comes first. Chefs and winemakers, purveyors of the land from which their produce grows, transmuted into cuisine and fermented into wine. Facilitators of terroir, harvesting at optimum ripeness and then initiating the transmogrification with immediate haste, in urgency, to capture, lock in and bottle aroma, flavour and texture, before any chance of deterioration or spoilage.

But what the fuck is terroir? The most used word in the language of wine is in fact, terroir. Nothing else compares, comes even remotely close, or causes as much debate. Except for minerality, but those who concern themselves in the matters of ridicule, dismissal and denial ignore the fact that the opposite of fruit is simply, unequivocally and finally, incontestably, mineral.

Were the notion of terroir to be a belief as simple as “what happens in the vineyard, through environment, by geology, geography and topology, from naturally occurring elements and microbes in the soil, by air and of climate. Were it just a matter concerning “the impossible creator of perfect storms, from out of riddle and enigma,” well, then, we could all just go home. It’s much more complicated than that and real.

Most winemakers will agree, in principle, to this. “The final goal is to make the finest wines that express terroir.” Organic and biodynamic are important. Terroir is more important. But winemakers are no fools. They know that “during the grape’s life cycle, genealogy and climate shape its development. But even after it is plucked from the vine it still carries no true identity, in so far as what it will become as a wine. This is the point where nature gives way to nurture. Environment now acts as the catalyst to shape the wine’s life. Wine does not evolve because of natural selection. It evolves at the hands of the winemaker.” Anti-terroir?

At this year’s Terroir Talk Symposium, Gamay was chosen as the first wine session’s go to grape variety, to investigate both the serious and not-so serious sides of its existential weightlessness. To revel in its lithe, brightness of being and to unearth its deep roots. That we have come to a time in history where both aspects can be studied in Burgundy and in Ontario is fortuitous indeed. As a Gamay groupie, I feel blessed to be born under a good sign, at the right time.

As a reminder, it’s always the right time to be with the Gamay you love. I have been urging Ontario farmers to plant, cultivate and nurture Gamay; for winemakers to make it more and more. I made “a proclamation in favour of a great grape and one that forges signature wines out of Canadian soils. I am an ardent supporter of and a willing rider on the Gamay bandwagon, in the name of connaitre and savoirkennen and wissen, recognition and understanding.”

Related – Go Gamay Go

It’s working. Rosewood Estates just planted it for the first time. Gamay is poured at the cellar door, at tasting events and in private gatherings all the time now. Bottom line is Gamay costs half of the price compared to Pinot Noir and Syrah and it thrives in Ontario. It can make serious Cru quality reds and even at the highest end, sell for less than $30. It has been, continues to be and will always be #GoGamayGo time in Ontario.

Related – It’s go Gamay go time

Moderator Chris Waters and the Gamay Masterclass panel: Jamie Drummond, Magdalena Kaiser, Martin Malivoire, Shiraz Mottiar, Bill Zacharkiw and Guillaume de Castelnau

Moderator Chris Waters and the Gamay Masterclass panel: Jamie Drummond, Magdalena Kaiser, Martin Malivoire, Shiraz Mottiar, Bill Zacharkiw and Guillaume de Castelnau

The first Masterclass: Gamay The Next Little Thing

“The intent of the first of the three wine sessions, was meant to investigate how it performs in Ontario and elsewhere in the world.”

The Panelists:

  • Winemaker Guillaume de Castelnau, Chief Winemaker/Director, Château des Jacques, Louis Jadot Beaujolais (Beaujolais, France)
  • Vigneron Martin Malivoire (Malivore, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, Canada)
  • Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar (Malivoire)
  • Wine writer/Sommelier Bill Zacharkiw (Montreal Gazette/Wine Align, Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

The Moderator: Wine writer Chris Waters (Vines Magazine/Intervin, Ontario, Canada)

To many, Gamay is a wonderful drug and though much maligned, its suitors and supporters can never tire of its freshness and its lightness of being. Moderator Chris Waters refers to Gamay as “a gateway grape, to transition drinkers from white to red wine.” In a world according to Guillaume de Castelnau, “Gamay is lazy, generous and fragile.” Bill Zacharkiw minces nothing, not words, nor feelings. “I love Beaujolais.” In the Terroir Master Class, there were 13 variations on Gamay, from semi-carbonic to old and baked, with many shades, hues, intensities and variations in between. Here are my notes.

Ontario Masterclass Gamay

Ontario Masterclass Gamay

Malivoire “Le Coeur” Gamay 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery)

Shiraz Mottiar refers to the young, Beaujolais impressionist as “Sammy Carbono,” a semi-carbonically macerated Gamay, with one foot in Nouveau and the other in a dusty, freshly spirited aromatic whirl. The tanky feel makes it accesibly gulpable. Like a leaping horse it is also twitchy, hopping in dressage, popping in the mouth. Fun if beside the point. Drink 2015.  Tasted May 2015

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

A month later the pepper runs from white to black, by way of red. Terrific sour edged fruit. Strawberry and cranberry tied together by citrus. Will need two years minimum to fully integrate.
From my earlier note of April 2015:
The profundity of tart, keen, briny berries dilates in its own very useful layers of citrus, tannin and concentration, beyond even what was observed in 2012. The zesty, spritely argot resonates from the unfurling of floral essentia out of a Gamay in desperate need of time. The flavours and overlay are somewhat impenetrable and yet leave quite an impression. While patience might be the virtue and the reward, if #gogamaygo is the modus operandi, a swig from the bottle like gentlemen of the road is certainly not out of the question. Drink 2016-2021.

Last tasted May 2015

Leaning Post Gamay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00)

A year has clarified the must into a venerable, beneficial decay, like effulgent, liquid rust. The shine of antiquity and then a blast of cinnamon dominates for the first major swirl. So lithe and profound like wise Pinot Noir, minus the Niagara coat of arms and lacquered veneer. Whatever anxiety may have held down the brightness has eased to deliver this current, optimum drinking window. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted May 2015
 
From my earlier (tank sample) note of May 2014:

Guiltless and virtuous straight out of stainless, the meaty side of Gamay game boldly goes where few from the Bench have gone before. Like a rare venison steak sitting in a silky pool of lavender-scented demi-glace. Floral like Fleurie and despite zero new oak, vanilla joins the gravy. A Senchuk steal of quality Wismer (McLeary…sort of) fruit sets this Gamay up for easy sell success.

Fielding Gamay 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Time has been a friend to the ’13 Fielding Gamay, a wine who’s elevated tones of floral fruit and acidity have settled in the name of structure. Dusty ground nubbins and mint swirl with layered if yet rigid fruit. Low-cropped vines are on display, in single-vineyard like attention to specific detail, akin to Malivoire’s Courtney. This is in fact sourced from a single-vineyard up on the cool Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. The site is a couple of kilometres south of Peninsula Ridge’s McNally Vineyard, the source of Ilya Senchuk’s terrific Leaning Post 2012 Pinot Noir. The Procyshyn family has been farming this plot (without fanfare) for decades in Beamsville. The pristine fruit that Theo and Shelley Procyshyn grow, along with their three sons, Nolan, Dalton and Brayden, yield as low as 1.5 tonnes and up to 3.5 tonnes per acre, depending on the year. The ’13 was around 3 t/a. Fielding has never labelled this Gamay ‘single vineyard’ because they have always hoped to bring in new Gamay blocks on as part of that wine, but that’s not yet worked out. The ’13 is very, very red raspberry, with a craggy, spiked point of liqueur, like a weeping peak upon that Vinemount Ridge in the afternoon sun. Has Beamsville’s upper reaches written all over its corporeal self. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015

13th Street “Sandstone” Gamay 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

May just be the first Gamay with a simulacrum towards a style best described as appassimento, what with the overripe fruit, aromatic cure, baked and sun-dried flavours. Sniff the confluence of black raspberry, scorched earth and roasting game bones, its sinew crackling over humid old growth wood. Gets rich into the vanilla, reeking of late harvest lavender and then a mutton funk. Could easily pass for a wealthy, unforgiving style of Cru Beaujolais, like Chénas from Christophe Pacalet. Or it could just be acting older than its age, by seven or eight years. Most prepossessing and confounding Gamay. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted May 2015

Stratus Gamay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Esteem elevated by structure, matched in poise and presence mottled in smears of darker, richer black cherry. If a slight absence of brightness is sensed due to the syrupy compression, like New World, west coast Pinot Noir, the gleaning from acidity and tannin times perfectly the effluent escape.

From my earlier note of April 2015:

It may not be the most idiosyncratic Gamay in Niagara but the Stratus 2012 is without a doubt the most advanced and complex. Gamay fusion is on display, at once a bottle of Niagara’s finest pulchritudinous veneer and then a charcuterie board laid ample with cured bovine parts and sun-dried grapes. Maximum ripeness and then even later picking, to no one’s surprise, have led to this. Two years of ageing in neutral oak barrels has brought about a humid roundness and yet the centre is controlled by Oz-like mint and eucalyptus notes. The jam is gelid, as opposed to temperate. Rarely does Gamay go to such depths, of blackberry, chalk and grain, with an overlord of tannin. Quite serious stuff. Drink 2017-2020.

Last tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques and Malivoire Courtney in the Gamay Masterclass

Château-De-Jacques and Malivoire Courtney in the Gamay Masterclass

Château-De-Jacques Morgon 2013, Ac Beaujolais, France (653584, $24.95, WineAlign)

The flushed scarlet animation is active and astir, like a soft serve swirl of dusty, cherry molasses, bathing in its own natural acidity. Has the presence of wine to integrate chalk, grain and Morgon tannin, in equal, opposite and variegated layers. Nothing shy about this gateway Cru Beaujolais. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques Morgon Côte du Py 2013, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $53.95)

In this rigid and stoic Morgon, the south-facing, blue volcanic slopes of the Côte du Py have provided a measure of firm fruit that will require a minimum two to three years to crack. The gears of the Gamay machinery may be grinding but the windows are yet open, the doors locked tight. This is the least forward, most inwardly introspective and least gregarious of the CdJ Beaujolais. Sharp sapidity, biting tang and piercing penetrating tannin deny immediate or even short-term access. Even the middle palate seems lifeless, devoid of cherry fruit and seamless layering, medicinal even. Judgement should be reserved, with knowledge of pedigree and how a bottle such as this will suddenly, effortlessly spring to life with time. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques Moulin a Vent 2010, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $36.95)

The undergraduate’s blend comes from the appellation’s Château des Jacques parcels; Carquelin, Rochegrès, Champ de Cour, Thorins and La Roche. Granite soils from each spice with symptomatic diversification and combine for a flippant funk that hitches straightforward out of the gate. Here Gamay leaves dusty behind with an urging away from humble and towards nobility. Richly aromatic, amplifying into palate. Such acidity and such grain. For this MaV the time is now, the arrival already announced. A late sense of veneer on the lengthy bitter finish indicates more good times ahead. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015<

Château-De-Jacques Moulin a Vent Clos de Rochegres 2010, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the appellation’s highest parcel, the red sandstone soils of the Clos de Rochegrès are gently sloping and fed by underground streams. I always sense salinity and an effusive, stony energy in wines blessed with subterranean irrigation. The drinking window for this 2010 is wide open and the funk meets age introduction has been made. Already in display of a dried fruit shrivel, the ’10 acts like Sangiovese of a similar senescence, like CCR or Vino Nobile with three to five years of age. The liqueur of roses, the earth and the cherries are culpable and yet the varnish and the baking spice crusting ensure that no one conclusion can yet be made. This is highly seasoned and not quite unfurled Gamay. Two more years should complete its conditioning. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques Moulin a Vent Clos de Rochegres 2007, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $43.95, WineAlign)

Poured from a magnum, the 2007 Clos de Rochgeres is the portal in which to peer, to see what can happen with Gamay. Baked, caked, figgy, funky and oxidative, more than ample fruit was present and persists, with the savoury edges now integrated throughout. Strawberry rhubarb pie comes to mind, with eyes closed and sniffing senses heightened. A bit indelicate, the humidity in tomato leaf and garrigue add to the idea of age though the citric punch and lactic texture are reminders of Gamay’s fun side. There is no shortage of complexity and evolution here. That said, consumption time is now. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted May 2015

Malivoire Gamay Courtney 2007, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The wow aromatics can’t be denied, fully explained nor perfunctorily taken for granted. Age has educated the fruit, stratified and fully saturated this Gamay. Strawberries have shot from an adrenaline cannon and structure has been fully realized with (non-Gamay) Old World confidence. A note of orange blossom, like an early evening Sevilla garden, is rousing. The natural evolve of such a Gamay, with wood, yeast and fruit in expert harmony, recalls the impossible acts of red wines like those made by Emidio Pepe. If the stretch is considered a conceit of poetic licence, so be it. The yet beating heart of raging acidity circling plenteous fruit and so much savour is nothing short of a Gamay miracle. Power and masculinity, by way of a conduit in oak, have been used to great advantage. This has life yet to live. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Château-De-Jacques Morgon Côte du Py 2006, Ac Beaujolais, France (Agent, $53.95)

Seamless and eminently structured, developed low and slow. The blue volcanic soil has procured an evolutionary subsumption, a roasted, developed personality. The seeping liquor oozes, of earthy cherries, again like Sangiovese, but inelastic and close-grained, as per the Côte du Py idiom. This ’06 offers clarity and gives reason to forgive the brutal ’13, to abstain for commenting further. This wine is quite ferric and still tannic. The oak remains a factor. Through the walls the Gamay fruit does transude and so the master plan is coming into effect, perhaps not immediately but will be very soon. Just around the corner. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2015
Moderator Sara d'Amato and the Terroir Masterclass panel: Magdalena Kaiser, Dr. Jim Willwerth, Emma Garner, Stuart Piggott and Dr. Kevin Pogue

Moderator Sara d’Amato and the Terroir Masterclass panel: Magdalena Kaiser, Dr. Jim Willwerth, Emma Garner, Stuart Piggott and Dr. Kevin Pogue

The second Masterclass: A Different Look At Terroir: How Much Do Soils Actually Matter?

“In this seminar/tasting we ask what the term really means, and how much do its many different elements actually influence the character of the finished wine?”

The Panelists:

  • Dr. Kevin Pogue Phd. Geology, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington State, USA
  • Dr. Jim Willwerth Phd. Biological Sciences: Plant Sciences; Oenology and Viticulture (CCOVI, Brock University, Niagara, Canada)
  • Winemaker Emma Garner (Thirty Bench, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, Canada)
  • Winewriter Stuart Pigott (Author of Riesling: Best White Wine On Earth, Berlin, Germany)

The Moderator: Wine writer/Sommelier Sara d’Amato (Wine Align, Toronto, Canada)

Dr. Willwerth offered up his opinion on how minerality is achieved in Riesling. “If you don’t get maturity in the variety at the end of the growing season, you won’t get the full expression of minerality. Overripe will eliminate minerality.” In Ontario, “The Bench is home to a mineral wealth of local Riesling, singular in composition not only by way of a global comparison, but also from plot to plot, soil to soil and vineyard to vineyard.” That persuasion has spread, down to the shores of Lake Ontario, by Niagara-on-the-Lake and in Prince Edward County. “Riesling brokers the nescient consumer with the gift of grape enlightenment.”

Seven Ontario Rieslings were tasted in the Masterclass. The notes.

Riesling Masterclass

Riesling Masterclass

Cave Spring Riesling Dolomite 2013, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

This is Cave Spring’s bridge, offering safe passage from Estate to CSV Riesling. Vinified with consistency in a quasi-Kabinett style, its elevated though classic numbers steadfast in sugar (17.55 g/L) and acidity (7.2 g/L TA). The dolomite limestone of the Escarpment means business in this calm, fit, chiseled and consumer-lissome Riesling. Palate is really the thing, seamless to attraction, from fruit to stone. Orchards and citrus groves alight to rock. Phenolically ripe yet shy of the tropical planet. Is there transference here? Absolutely. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign)

The happy place effect by age in the Château Des Charmes’ vines coupled with location is usually enough to carry this Riesling through an obvious and readily identifiable tunnel but 2013 confounds. The elemental ratio, derived from multiplying reduction by altitude leans thoughts to the Vinemount Ridge or the Cave Spring Escarpment Vineyard. The compound aromatic waft, or more succinctly, the deconstructed stone, the breaking down of periodic Hollywood squares is a force to reckon. That this arrives from such close proximity to the lake is nothing short of amazing. It’s as if this Riesling is the product of stressed vines and the pierce is just so pinpointed. Less accessible than ’12 for sure, so drink up previous vintages going back at least three before even thinking about getting to know 2013. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2015

Norman Hardie Riesling 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Tank Sample)

At this prepossessed stage the terpenic fruit might fail in competition but succeed in the marketplace. Easy access, smelling of perfumed must, juicy, with citrus and burgeoning acidity. Low alcohol and good length stretch out an endless lemon summer. The wine will reverse itself within a year and beat impossible odds. A Hardie always does.  Tasted May 2015

Thirty Bench Riesling Small Lot Triangle Vineyard 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)
The brilliant hue slides through patina and heads for gold. Some fumes have emerged with age, part petrol, part pure mineral, but of what kind and more importantly how, or why? Viscous, near oily, waxy and the most Glück of the three Thirty Bench single-vineyard Rieslings. Tossed with spice, pepper, lemon and honey that is more molasses than clover. The mineral is a result of the lowest water retentive soil as compared to Steel Post and Wood Post. The transmission for (orchard or tropical) fruit is minimized, the vigour low. The result is mineral. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted May 2015

Thirty Bench Riesling Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Balance is and therefore always was struck. The match percusses flint for a mere nano-second, with just a brush on cymbal, the rock bleeds but is quickly clotted because the fruit shines still, like around the clock light. The steely aspect is a posterior one, antithetical and yet purposed, from this vineyard. Youth tells common sense to think 2011. The Riesling behaviour seems to play that part, of a chalky, piercing acidity, so typical of that vintage and so distinctly Thirty Bench. That the wine is older is not a big surprise because 2009 is the bomb. It may just be the best Riesling vintage, from on that Bench, in the last 10. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted May 2015

Thirty Bench Riesling Small Lot Wood Post Vineyard 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Age is a factor but less so than its Bench sisters due to a fine sense of calm. Showing less evolution, less viscosity, less wax and honey. More than that, the periodic table has yet to fill in. The Wood Post exhibits more warmth, savour and balm. A taste offers a sapidity that combines toasted fennel and candied lemon. Poised and yet incomplete, the vineyard fetters this Riesling to breath slowly and take its (will get to) sweet time. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2009, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)

Going back a few years, this Flat Rock Weis 21 clone Riesling from atop the Niagara Escarpment was made by former winemaker Ross Wise. Six years has concentrated both aromas and flavours while concurrently reducing the cutting drill. The hyperbole is read by tablet, of etchings in stone, immortalizing the terroir (not so) long before it was truly known how this could happen. What sticks out the most is the bleeding limestone texture and the striking aridity. Later vintages of Nadja improve on the flesh. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted May 2015
Clone Wars Masterclass

Clone Wars Masterclass

The third Masterclass: “The Clone Wars”: What Do Different Clones Bring To The Glass & Why?

“Looks at Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. The varying clones utilized are a point of pride for some winemakers, and yet not even mentioned by others. Over the course of this detailed seminar/tasting we hope to answer why this is the case.”

The Panelists:

  • Dr. Kevin Pogue Phd. Geology Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington State, USA
  • Dr. Jim Willwerth Phd. Biological Sciences: Plant Sciences; Oenology and Viticulture (CCOVI, Brock University, Niagara, Canada)
  • Winemaker Angelo Pavan (Cave Spring, Jordan, Ontario, Canada)
  • Winemaker Jay Johnston (Flat Rock, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, Canada)

The Moderator: Sommelier Katy Moore (Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada)

Dr. Jim Willwerth asserts that “clones are essential for viticulture, propagated asexually, through cuttings.” Angelo Pavan notes “clonal research to cold heartiness is very important for Niagara and also for yields.” Clones no doubt drive the industry, at least behind the scenes, but when it comes to making great wine, is it the be all, end all? “I still believe plot trumps clone,” says Jay Johnston. The defence rests. Here are the wines tasted in the final Masterclass.

Clone Wars Masterclass line-up

Clone Wars Masterclass line-up

Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (351486, $21.95, WineAlign)

While aridity suggests Alsace Clone 49, this is actually Weiss 21, made saline and arid out of Lincoln Lakeshore soil. The herbal aspect has propagated to combine with Twenty Bench like distinction and with less citrus than Vinemount Ridge or Beamsville Bench. The Mosel density has developed with time in bottle. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of October 2013:

Cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.

Last tasted May 2015

Trius Winery At Hillebrand Showcase Riesling Ghost Creek Vineyard 2013, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Ghost Creek Riesling comes from the shadow of a river bed vineyard planted to the Alsace clone 49. The fruit is much richer than most, coupled with the aridity and salinity that former stony wadi plots and this particular clone will conspire to effect. The citrus intensity is however tempered by a humidity that comes from seemingly sunburnt fruit, tanned and wet down by the revenant reservoir. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Produced from the 77 clone, the vintage has heightened the high herbal and feigned sweetness aromatic pastis. The palate is extraordinarily viscous, with Yellow Muscat and Gewürztraminer attributes, not so out of the ordinary considering Cave Spring’s older world execution. Drives from lemon to mandarin, through almond pit and into peach. Always solid Musqué. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted May 2015

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

In the hands of winemaker Kevin Panagapka, Craig Wismer’s fruit retains un underlay of power not recognized in other Foxcroft Chardonnays. Neither Thomas Bachelder nor Ross Wise (Keint-He) make anything near spirited as this 2027 take. Chardonnay loves the sun in the Foxcroft Block and Panagapka loves to see that sun hook up with the inside of a barrel. This ’12 makes a nice date for a wood wedding. A product of the Dijon 96 clone, the reduction in this Chardonnay drives its fresh, spritely if mettlesome nature, with a bark and a barrel bellow, but longevity will not suffer as a result. This could take 30 years to oxidize, it’s that audacious and also courageous. Let it and its buttered popcorn rest a while. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted May 2015

Malivoire Chardonnay Moira 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (243113, $39.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to clones, winemaker Shiraz Mottiar distills the Moira Vineyard into the realm of “field selection.” Not to be confused with field blend though I suppose that’s what it is, of sorts. The ’13 is the dictionary entry for Moira, typically balanced, from pedigree, in warmth, amiability, gathered and distributed, from acumen and confidence, to customary placement. Fruit and acidity relax on a sofa of equilibrium, taking little in the way of risks, making no mistakes. Reduction isn’t even a twinkle in its fresh versus oxidative eye. The vintage and the handling purports to throw infantile, developed and matured into one big machine for a readout that grants immediate gratification. Exemplary take on cool-climate, Niagara Peninsula, slightly warmer Beamsville Bench Chardonnay proper. Not for the long-term. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Pond Block 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Assessed blind it smells just like the Flat Rock’s Gravity Pinot Noir yet singled out in fractions. Here the mellifluent block, of sweet crooning fruit, careening and submissive to Siamese brother triplet Summit’s tension.

From my earlier note of October 2013:

Crosses the twain between Bruce and Summit. A cottony touch, most pronounced perfume and of the three, the lowest acidity. Mellow, easy, J.J. Cale peaceful, void of chalk, grain or angst. Speaks in a cherry voice, smells like cherry and returns that cherry to taste. Ripe and soft. “Sweet as a morning sunrise, fresh as a mountain dew.”

Last tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Summit Block 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The most perfumed and yes, Burgundian of the three blocks, the Pommard in the group. Still limestone chalky and gaining weight. This is a single-block wine to me made again.From my earlier note of October 2013:This block’s base is slightly deeper, spreading over dolomite limestone. Diminished average temperatures mean berries develop lower and slower, hang longer (up to three weeks) resulting in higher phenolic ripeness. Summit may be the caveman of the three, seemingly in dire straits, covered in leaves, snapped twigs, truffles and porcini mushroom but damn if impossible Burgundy does not come to mind. This is one to ask where do you think you’re going? It will surely reply, “if you ain’t with me girl, you’re gonna be without me.”Last tasted May 2015

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Bruce Block 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The light and delicate place translates to hue, texture and ultimately elegance. Yet there persists an underlying anxiety, essential for gravity.

From my earlier note of October 2013:

From the northern most block, up at the Escarpment/Bruce trail. Thin, one foot deep soil meshes flaky limestone at this elevation. Smallish berries predominate and an earthly mote accents the flowers, cherries, strawberry and classic purity of this bonny Bruce. A Oregonian lightness of being, if you will. From one of the few south-facing slopes in Niagara (because of 20 Mile Creek), where the limestone chalk imparts fine-grained tannin so apparent to taste.

Last tasted May 2015

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50 cool Chardonnay in 5,000 words or more

I arrived at Brock University for the Cool Chardonnay conference on Friday and we began tasting the first of 117 sometime around 11:00 am. On Friday night we convened under the stars st 13th Street Winery for the Barrels and Bonfires event. On Saturday I taxied up the Cave Spring Road runway for an afternoon in the Cave Spring vineyard with the Pennachettis and on Saturday bussed over to Vineland Research and Innovation Centre for the grand Cool Chardonnay dinner.

Related – The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind

On Sunday we wrapped up at Ravine Vineyard. In between events, we tasted Chardonnay in the Media Room at White Oaks Resort and Spa. All of this not would not have been possible without the efforts of Wine Country Ontario.  I posted 20 or so tasting notes in Monday’s column, scribbles apropos to the events associated with the presented wines.

Here are 50 more tasting notes in 5,000 Godello words, add or subtract a few hundred. If you follow doctor’s orders and take one Chardonnay every hour for 50 hours, this is the result.

I've fallen and I can't get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. @mikedicaro channelling his inner MacGyver to save #i4c14

Angels Gate Old Vines Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116350, $23.95, WineAlign)

The long hanging fruit left to develop sugar and richness, the new oak, the eight months rest on the lees. These are all winemaker favourite things, stylistic choices that contribute to a viscous mess of a Chardonnay. A full take has been liberally advantaged from the hot vintage. The alcohol is listed at 13.5 per cent but the wine sweats higher, in a sun-caramelized toast, leaning to oxidative, even bruised and battered orchard fruit territory. As a consequence and in retreat, the acidity dot does follow. The new wood has melded well and good so in terms of texture, the old vines feel right.  Tasted July 2014

Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (116384, $15.25, WineAlign)

The Mountainview, despite being a value offering as compared to the Old Vines just seems to be in better temper. There is more mineral on the palate, too. Angles here are less extreme, fruit not as languid or encumbered. The persistence in length seems greater, thanks in most part to freshness, even if the fruit is not quite as fleshy as the OV.  Tasted July 2014

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 and Hidden Bench Felseck Chardonnay 2011

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”  Last Tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.”  Last tasted July 2014

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (350108, $23.95, WineAlign)

A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring wines

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (213983, $29.95, WineAlign)

Today a fine misty Blancs, looking very much the coppery, crisp slice of apple it need be. Slate stone tone directive, grapefruit very much in play. A slice of tart key lime pie. From my earlier May 2014 note: “The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity.” From my earlier, December 2012 note: “Sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.” Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Dolomite Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (902610, $16.95)

The Dolomite is the eponymous CS Chardonnay via 86 per cent Beamsville Bench (Cave Spring Vineyard) and 14 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore . Driven to the licensee market, this is 25 years of winemaking in a nut (or limestone) shell. Made in a fresh, clean, juicy and oh so approachable style, the Dolomite finishes with a slight bitter pith, very obvious citrus zest slant. Remains clean and pure throughout, thanks in large part to the 26 percent more aromatic and very presentable portion of Chardonnay Musqué.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2011, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (246579, $15.95, WineAlign)

Musqué is slowly creeping into the Niagara consciousness and into the hearts of winemakers across the peninsula. The aptitude with which it accedes to perfumed heights and respectable complexity without needing excessive coercion makes it both necessary and inviting, especially when a vigneron like Cave Spring is attempting to produce so many levels of quality juice. Chardonnay made easy and without compromise, exemplified here, though the CS take heads straight to the mandarin-clementine stage. Dry, direct, linear, fine and knowing Musqué, not unlike basic yet effective Gruner Veltliner.  Tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (256552, $18.95, WineAlign)

The vine age on the Estate runs between 18 and 35 years, a wisdom not to be ignored. Usage of older Hungarian oak lends spice to Chardonnay on-line and always climbing the right and proper varietal tower. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Terrific balance to the warm and inviting fruit, certainly orchard driven and kissed by the Spring’s obvious mineral slate. Clean, open-knit, ready, willing and able.”  Last tasted July 2014

Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (529941, $29.95, WineAlign)

Though currently subtle and reserved, if the Csv were once in a wonky phase, the doors to a new perception are now open. Soaked orchard fruit, the underlay of stone and a surround sound of chalky tenderness leads to length, for time is what this Chardonnay has got. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Here is a vibrant and wild at heart expression of Bench Grand Cru terroir, the Cave Spring Vineyard. While the first impression may be a warm one it seems (for the vintage) that is because it’s big, boisterous and a bit clumsy in wood right now. The acidity seems buried at times and at others on top. It is also a touch reductive so this will need more years to settle and to play nice. The aromas indicate green apple meets metal pipe, the flavours orchard and salinity by way of limestone minerality. The length is more than admiral and admirable.” Last tasted July 2014

Clois du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, California, USA (421941, $28, WineAlign)

Inserting the calcaire nomenclature into your RRV label is to announce that your Chardonnay is influenced by calcium carbonate and the ancient, long ago decomposed bones of coral and foraminifera. A heady designation for sure and Clos Du Bois backs it up with its sedimentary and chalky textured ’11. There is a fine stone-ground spice and floral lilt, not to mention a demurred wave, like an under water coral and vegetative scene in slow motion. Clean, pure, lively fruit, picked just in time and left to develop low and slow. I can see this Calcaire gaining complexity for 10 plus years and always living up to its name.   Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2012, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (379297, $29, WineAlign)

A macadam drafts from the Creation drawn from what might provocatively be a pair of gravel pits at the base of the Hemel En Aarde Valley. A soul 2012 brother to the Sumaridge though grounded and layered by the lower slopes. That said it does the heavy lifting, offers up more green apple driven fruit and less tannic mineral activity. A bigger wine but by no means a serf to its wood liege. Another stellar ’12.  Tasted July 2014

Creation Chardonnay 2013, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (378554, $32, WineAlign)

Creation brightens in 2013, lifts up to more intense rose flower and potpourri aromas. The intensity follows on the very viscous palate, bringing an increased ocean breeze salinity and scraped rock sensibility. There is a granitic feel that reminds of Rangen Riesling in its own tannic way. In the end the elegance factor takes over and the wine perseveres for a spell.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Villa Savigny Les Beaune Blanc 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (378208, $40.95, WineAlign)

From low-yielding (20 hL/l) vines, like all of Burgundy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), as opposed to the 40-45 quotient that might be expected from much of ‘lighter’ Savigny Les Beaune, especially for Chardonnay. Aged for 12 months in two year-old, 500l barrels, there is an alluring and rich feel here, though the wine is fresh, inviting and immediately integrated. A more than approachable White Burgundy to relish now and for a quick tour of the village.  Tasted July 2014

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Saint Aubin 2012

Decelle Villa Saint Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay 2012, Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France (377713, $69, WineAlign)

From the partnership of Olivier Decelle, Pierre-Jean Villa and the confidence of winemaker Jean Lupatelli. The town is Gamay, the variety Chardonnay. Only five barrels (125 cases) were produced by a trio of men with zero interest in speculating over land, fruit or success. Barrel fermentation is key, natural yeast a must and a kinship with Puligny uncanny. Not surprising considering the famed locale is but three kilometres away. This cooler fruit spent 15 months in two year-old barrels and though only bottled five weeks prior to tasting there is nary a shocky note. Such a well-adjusted Gamay. Entrancing and engaging Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376095, $58.95, WineAlign)

Unusual nose that begins with white candy floss, transforms to gun powder and finishes into the toasty mystic. Unexpectedly warm, buttery and tingling on the tongue, though that is just a faint and fleeting notion. A taste brings out apple-butter terpenes, though once again, that’s just for an instant. While looking for richness their instead ticks intelligence but everything is in foreign tongue shorthand. Balance is key and that it has but ultimately there lacks a certain level of depth.  Tasted July 2014

Domaine Dublère Les Terres Blanches Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru 2011, AC Burgundy, France (376079, $105, WineAlign)

Big, boisterous and highly terpenic, so steroidal in apples. MdC  “Donut wines…a hole in the middle.” A tang as well that just doesn’t sit right, a dog that bites. Bitter, tight, bracing, non repentant for its sins.  Don’t really get it.   Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Domaine De L’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay 2012, AC Midi, France (377671, $33.00, WineAlign)

Rich, honeyed and seemingly sweet, not from sugar (3 g/L) but rather the pressing, squeezing and juicing of stones. That limestone tannin is a trick only grape must and its parent vines know, wondrous and inexplicable. Great body and mouthfeel come from this baby Aigle, a Chardonnay with locally incomparable structure, if not quite the elastic length and girth of the Bertrand Royal. Exceptional quality from the Midi.  Tasted July 2014

Gérard Bertrand Aigle Royal Chardonnay 2012, AP Limoux, Midi, France (377689, $75.00)

Anxiety in high caste mineral, in ingot and in southern French platinum rock. Full textured beauty of attitude and high-slope altitude, with formidable weight, smouldering, perfumed toast and exceptional texture. Full in every way, taking every liberty in the name of equality, and quality. A who knew such bounds could be leaped by the warmth of the place.  Tasted July 2014

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Godello and Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68817, $28.95, WineAlign)

Yet rigid in its youth, the wood is not yet settled. Bottled in September of 2012, the ’12 will need every day of its first year to be ready, willing and able to please upon release. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Always aromatically embossed and texturally creamy, the Estate Chardonnay finds a way to elevate its game with each passing vintage. The uplifting elegance factor acquiesces the poise needed to battle the effects of ultra-ripe fruit out of a warm vintage. In ’12 the middle ground exchanges more pleasantries though the finale speaks in terse, toasted nut and piquant daikon terms. Not harshly or witchy, mind you, but effectively and within reason of the season. When you look in the window at Harald (proprietor Thiel) and Marlize’s (winemaker Beyers) Chardonnay, “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.”  Last tasted July 2014

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Bottled in March of 2014, the Felseck draws fruit from vines planted in 1988. Proprietor Harald Thiel notes a three-pronged picking regimen, early, mid and late, vinified separately and brought together to bring layering and tapestry out of this extraordinary vineyard and into the finished wine. The many folds and clay-silt soil provide a tannic structure dichotomously “champlant” in style, pastoral even, subdued and ethereal. The nerve in this Chardonnay comes by way of the active limestone, highest in Felseck as compared to any other HB block. This may be the most direct Chardonnay in all of Niagara, the house of permanent cards, the as of yet not witnessed balance achieved. This is the check that affirms a stand and a step towards a legacy.  Tasted twice, July 2014

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Godello and Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2012, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22)

Chardonnay of stainless steel from Chromy’s estate vineyard at Relbia in northern Tasmania, cool, savoury green, spirited and grinding in tight, sharp angles. From what winemaker Jeremy Dineen describes as “a pungent must,” the Pepik is entry-level and anything but. There is a gentle, stable and clarified zesty personality in ‘er, fragrant, snappy and poignant. Versatile for a walkabout with many a pre-dinner flavour.  Tasted July 2014

Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2013, Tasmania, Australia (378232, $32, WineAlign)

In a world where 30+ degrees celsius is a veritable anomaly and the maritime winds spray salt to and fro, there can be little argument against the celebration of (winemaker) Jeremy Dineen’s Chardonnay at a cool climate conference. Sulphured early and housed in one-third new French oak, his lees were stirred often and always. Highly textured, he is succinctly clean, cutting and crunchy with an underlying chalky rationale and smokey, tonic toast. The Chromy ’13 is a demanding croon that must creep up to get a hold of you. Though you tell him “you treat me badly, I love you madly,” there is a miracle in his non-malolactic ways.   Tasted July 2014

Kistler Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $80, WineAlign)

Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions.  At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2012, Carneros, California (agent, $80, WineAlign)

The Carneros vineyard of Tuscan clay is filled with giant river stones. It consequently offers up more of a stone groove, but also an everglade humidity, a lemony spray and a rub of savoury, evergreen. The palate brings a crisp, cool, mountain morning, a rushing stream of fresh water and the cool mountain air. There is a piercing bite on the mid-palate, a peppery spice that lingers than releases for a full wash, a cleanse in mineral. Amazing balance in tightrope tension and length to a horizon out of sight.  Great wine. Finds its elegance and its cool without any effort, like the power lift of a ballet dancer.  Tasted three times, July 2014

Kistler Vine Hill Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast, California (agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

This is from the vineyard in surround of Kistler’s home base and from soil anything but flattering to the host vines. Sandy, deficient in nutrients, “like beach sand,” says Geoff Labitzke, MW, that seemingly has no bottom. Irrigational tubing is employed and perhaps some nitrogen in mid-summer but as per the Kistler stratagem, the VH is dry-farmed. This has the most golden sunshine of the three Chardonnays tasted at #i4C14. It’s brighter, with linear acidity and a very toasty, nutty feel. Sitting with it a while is necessary to appreciate its charm and gathering power.  Tasted July 2014

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Derek Barnett, Lailey Vineyard at 13th Street Winery

Lailey Brickyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (2908, $30.20, WineAlign)

From a vineyard planted in 2004 on the east end of the Lailey property, right next to the river. The red clay soil, the cooler nights and the longer growing season produced just 70 cases of this highly singular and stupidly inexpensive Niagara Chardonnay. This is a vineyard transformed over 10 years from a brickyard and cherry tree farm, now rich yet elegant in simultaneous motion, not to mention seamless in transition, within and without. Brother Derek Barnett is generously giving this rare, small lot Chardonnay away, all the while “talking, about the space between us all…and life flows on,” along the Niagara River.  Tasted July 2014

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $40.20, WineAlign)

The old Vines were planted between 1974 and 1978, ancient by Niagara standards. Only gnarly old, gristle veteran dudes like these could handle the beastly burden of 16 months in 50 per cent new French oak, not to mention all the while sitting on top of the lees heap. It may ask you “am I hard enough, am I rough enough, am I rich enough?” You may tell it “you’re tropical, you’re subtle, you’re sweet yet cool in mouthfeel, you’re elegant and you’re “not too blind to see,” but you carry that oak with ease.  Tasted July 2014

Malivoire Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (573147, $19.95, WineAlign)

Essentially bone-dry, kissed by a minor peck of new oak and consistently established, here from fruit out of Estate, Moira and (10 per cent) Vinemount Ridge vineyards. The latter adds flinty complexity by way of an intangible, aeriform note, magnified by the warmth of the vintage. The humidity is very minor, thanks to prudent early (September 1 to 12) picking of Beamsville Bench grapes in ever-present rooted stability. Here is hospitable Chardonnay gaining traction and interest with each passing vintage, showcasing the work of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar and as a portal to the investigations of Small Lot, Moira, Mottiar and Cat on the Bench. Tasted July 2014

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire and Riedel, Image (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

In admiral control this summer, rich in stone-churned butter and in residence of a right honourable place. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Gamay may be winemaker Shiraz Mottiar’s decisive resource but Chardonnay is his thing. The Moira’s ranks as one of Niagara’s best, vintage in, vintage out and this Mottiar, from the winemaker’s home vineyard is the trump card. This Malivoire special agent is set in 2 – 5 year old 300 L French oak hogsheads and aged on the lees in barrel for 10 months. The result? Texture. With the use, or lack thereof in new oak, Mottiar’s Chardonnay becomes a study in compages, with strong abilities and the accents of green orchard fruit and a faint sensation of blanched nut. Nothing toasty mind you because it’s all about density and girth; a Shiraz thing. I find his Chardonnay is all about texture.”  Last tasted July 2014

Manciat-Poncet Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV, Burgundy, France (378653, $28)

A tragically gingered peach, a candied rhinestone, a ready to bake hip cake for the easy oven. Safe bubbles here, “pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire, sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire,” from a distance, with simplicity and caution. Like getting caught in New Orleans with a sinking feeling.  Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Morizottes Mâcon 2012, Burgundy, France (376137, $27, WineAlign)

There are some unhinged and unusual aromas in this Mâcon, of carbon copies, a stainless tank and Musa. Pears too, pinballing and ready for poaching. Faux or perhaps near-mineral texture, slightly saline, with flint and slate. The complexities are boundless and confounding. Highly expressive but the expressions are not all created equal.   Tasted July 2014

Marie-Pierre Manciat Les Petites Bruyères Pouilly-Fuissé 2012, Burgundy, France (376129, $39, WineAlign)

There is a deep rust, faded jeans vine wisdom in the Pouilly-Fuissé. It steps out with more richness and tension than the Mâcon. Balanced energy and stretched length.  Tasted July 2014

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, (331918, $49, WineAlign)

First notes are high in the hills of the tropics, in pineapple, mango and papaya. A veritable smoothie of very ripe, creamy fruit and though it carries a 14 per cent mark in alcohol there rests a jury of acceptable behaviour. Finesse has won the argument, leaving bits of white pepper, reduction and vineyard funk behind. There is a persistence that belies the price on this judiciously-oaked Chardonnay, complete with its avocation of high-powered notations in an expensive suit.  Tasted July 2014

THe Chardonnay of #i4c14

The Chardonnay of #i4c14

Maycas Del Limarì Sumaq Chardonnay 2013, Limari Valley, Chile (Agent, $15.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010, Limarí Valley, Chile (162040, $20.00, WineAlign)

This unoaked Chilean is fresh yet herbal, though mildly so and lime-accented, but certainly not spiked in any Tequila or other southern hemisphere distilled spirit from a large seeping plant kind of way. Fine and subtle actually, so not overtly cool or lifted by altitude influenced climatic acidity. Peacefully, Pacifically tempered Chardonnay.  Tasted July 2014

Maycas Del Limarì Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2011, Limari Valley, Chile

Known as the “dry cliff” this is from a southern parcel (Pinot Noir comes from the north), a calcium carbonate plot that leads to this stone-driven Chardonnay. Nearly 200 metres above sea level, the altitude brings more cool to this bottling, more ventilated salinity, an almost wet-air, asthmatic sense of breathing. Really defined by oyster shell, this has more fruit than the value-based offerings, increased density, more citrus, both dried and condensed. A lot going on here, quite unique and worth a good look.  Tasted July 2014

Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.15, WineAlign)

From the St. David’s Bench, this avant-garde label saw 11 months in French and American barriques, along with regular lees stirring. Certainly hovering and circulating in wide-ranging textural graces. A whole lotta love and learning is in this bottle; it’s round and golden with a high-spirited tang. At once typical and contrived, it’s also reeking and soaking like a sponge. Many an orchard makes an aromatic class audit. A high-toned citrus exam demands attention and focus. The wood is obvious but it too will learn. All in all this is cool Chardonnay, well-made and ready for the world.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $24.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Martin Werner’s 2012 may just be the hardest working Chardonnay in showbiz and in Niagara. Winnowed from Estate (St. David’s Bench) and (Niagara) river fruit, there lurks within, a 20-30 percent perfumed compression of Chardonnay Musqué. The additive is a tonic fanned from the wine’s olfactic communicative nerve centre, adding tree fruit notes no more serious than should be gathered. Werner picked real early, like five weeks ahead (first of September) and the resulting noisome perfume makes for some funk. “It’s these little things, they can pull you under,” but they blow away and settle into a rich, viscous Chardonnay for the palate to collect, contain and command. “Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.” This Ravine works automatically, of the people, for the people.  Tasted July 2014

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (381905, $40.00, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent hillside Estate fruit, a limestone and slate parcel in St. David’s on the Niagara Escarpment. This is fruit from low yields that spent 24 months of unabashed pleasure in French oak. Though highly concentrated and bent in an oxygenated stratosphere, the reduction is in elevated citrus aromas and piercing mineral flavours. Bigger than many, than your head, than a yottabyte. The complex notations are elevated in so many ways. Strung tighter than a leer kite, the heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds are years away from settling so put this Ravine away. Come back next decade to see where it’s at.  Tasted July 2014

Rex Hill Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon (378455, $46.00, WineAlign)

Palate cleansing Chardonnay, an attribute that can’t be stressed or praised enough when tasting 117 renditions in a span of 50 hours. The Rex Hill is lithe, crisp and pure, a wine with a sense of wisdom. He is a subtle act of wine generosity. He smells like clove-scented, fine-casted ingot and is full of health increasing salinity and minerality. A wine of direct discovery, simple professionalism, restraint and impeccable balance. There is a green apple flavour, gently pressed and juiced. There is a texture from quarry rocks, the creamed kind, slightly piquant, merely dusted. The Rex is a very fine, calm representative with a sure sense of place.  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

This special, specific and idiosyncratic batch by winemaker Ann Sperling is a whirlwind of terpene, wood and lees, all in a whorl. Though all three demanding notions make a play to bully the fruit, this is no ordinary fruit and touched by no passive hands. Complex and textured like angelic cake, there is a distinct aroma coming from the righteous barrel, a high octane, tropical nuance, in smouldering pineapple, creamy mango and mangosteen. This Chardonnay spits the vintage heat out through the gap in its front teeth, goes all tense and nervous, does not relax. There is chalk and stone, like slate, like Calcaire Riesling, all in at 14.3 per cent abv. An all out intense effort, a wow bit of Niagara, but what exactly is this monster? The amazing thing is that there is just a ton of fruit so you can let this settle down for 10 years or more. As BMS notes, “it’s raw and unleashed.”  Tasted July 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.00, WineAlign)

Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.  From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2012, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

In direct antithesis to what was a more than commendable 2011, this follow-up takes the Sumaridge illustrious Cru torch and raises the Hemel En Arde bar to the most complex portion of the ridge. Proprietor Holly Bellingham notes the near perfect vintage, with rain falling gracefully and slowly throughout, unlike the heavy shelling just before the 2011 harvest. Here the seamless connections of ocean winds, granite give and beatific vines mean this ’12 is super bad. Sunshine intensity, cool godfather of soul moves and dancing nerve are all as one. This is like a mineral sponge, sopping up fresh fruit and the slightest notion of toasted nuts. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Heeeeey, (scream). Uh, come on!” How will Sumaridge top this?  Tasted July 2014

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2011, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa (378760, $35, WineAlign)

Though it lacks the elegance of the astonishing 2012, there is a freshness and a vigor that still defines the Valley. The aromatics create an expectation despite the heavy rains at harvest, a deluge that had a thinning effect on the fruit. The kick or punch in the pith caused neither dilution nor disease and this ’11 rebounded to carry the fire. From my earlier, May 2014 note: “Though it would be naïve to think every Chardonnay produced out of the Hemel En Aarde Valley is the stuff of grand cru, recent examples have done nothing but impress. Sumaridge joins Hamilton Russell and Creation on the Walker Bay dream team. Ocean breeze-cooled slopes and deprived soils of decomposed granite loam with quartzite manage rich fruit with cool ease. In this 2011 a most excellent trifecta of dryness (1.7 g/L), acidity (6.9 g/L) and PH (3.45) brings together texture and tannin. Though seemingly sweet it is anything but a cloying example. Buttery but mild in toast, quite piercing yet tempered by an herbal quality, not warm or balmy, but inexorably herbal. Schematically waxy, splashed by lemon and piqued by zest.”  Last tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (agent, $41.95, WineAlign)

Tasted with proprietor Brian Talley at Cave Spring Vineyard in a setting to do justice for a wine with an irrigated gully of heart. Barrel fermented, using wild yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak, 20 per cent of it new. Pours thick, rich and viscous into the glass with a reality that is pure, light and elegant. This is so much cooler in direction than could be perceived or believed. “I want to make wine that tastes like our grapes and not someone else’s barrels,” insists Talley. That philosophy equates to a pansophy of orange citrus and the misty spray of its scored skin, so aromatic, so in blossom, so floral. Not sure there has been nosed such succulence in restraint from Arroyo, from California or from anywhere Chardonnay grows in warm climes.  Tasted July 2014

Talley Vineyards Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, California, USA  (winery, $61.95, WineAlign)

The Rincon Block was planted in 1984, the “home” vineyard next to the winery. Tight, bracing, savoury and bound by a tannic, mineral extraction. Only 17 barrels (just under 500 cases) were produced of this 100 per cent (14 months in 20 per cent new oak) barrel fermented Chardonnay marked by wow intensity. “Jump back, what’s that sound, here she comes, full blast and top down.” Wailin’ Halen Chardonnay trampled underfoot, what can you say, like chanting “Panama ah-oh-oh-oh-oh.” Talley’s Rincon ’12 never relents, stays on the throttle, puts the pedal to the metal and speeds the van towards a persistent, consistent finish. Bring on the Digby, Nova Scotia scallops, from coast to coast.  Tasted July 2014

Tantalus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (VINTAGES 378821, $42, BC VQA, 114884, $29.90, WineAlign)

The immediacy of this Chardonnay is felt, in perfumed poise, in palate roundness, in a velvet wrap of texture. A finely balanced and over-achieving elegance from out of a single vineyard, specifically “block 6,” which sits above a gravel bed, on an eastern aspect in South East Kelowna. A mild toast, a blanch of nuts and creamy citrus coagulate to create a transcendent B.C. Chardonnay experience, one that seems like it could be eaten with a spoon. “It peels off and ties that bind me,” and after tasting I saw the light. Chardonnay with an unconscious redirection of feelings, a transference unique and welcome.  Tasted July 2014

Thelema Mountain Blanc de Blancs 1994, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (376111, $28)

Méthode Cap Classique fine bubbles still motivated and in blender motion that if fading can be excused with a thousand pardons. With no more than 2 g/L of residual sugar it’s an Extra Brut style that has survived two decades. Far eastern spices and orange melon that remain cool, juicy and unfermented give it youthful aromas. One of those hard to believe 20 year-old success stories that will continue to give to 25. Wild yeast and grated wasabi square off the peg in this Stellenbosch ringer for vintage Champagne. Buy one now at VINTAGES Shop Online, bring it to a party, be the coolest Chardonnay cat around.  Tasted July 2014

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

A selection of international and Ontario sparkling wines on ice. Photo (c) Steven Elphick & Associates

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (20431, $23, WineAlign)

Fruit divides time and space from the (sandy, Black Sage) Diamondback Vineyard and the (sandy gravel, Golden Mile) Tinhorn Creek Vineyard. So what? So let’s dance to Andrew Moon and Sandra Oldfield’s fresh recognisance mission, to offer up a slight oak and stirred lees textural sui generis, but mostly the intent to keep things crisp and real. The sugar and PH are low, the acids medium to high. Overall there generates a cool orchard fruit blooming breeze and a south-west feeling of ease. Bring it on.  Tasted July 2014

Good to go!

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Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th

Ribs meet Turkey PHOTO: Michael Godel

Ribs meet Turkey, rubs by Barque Smokehouse
PHOTO: Michael Godel

The last four times the calendar’s folklorique confluence brought a Friday and the 13th of a month together occurred in December and September of 2013, July and April of 2012. On that April Friday the arbitrariness shared a birthday with the sinking of the titanic. That kind of anti-kismet “does not bode well for the superstitious kind.” So once again, if you are one of the many inflicted with paraskevidekatriaphobia then tomorrow may not be your favourite day. If you also suffer from oenophobia, I feel for you.

Here are thirteen things that make me think of the number thirteen.

  1. Apollo 13. Moon mission gone bad.
  2. Thirteen years ago this week Radiohead went to No. 1 on the UK album chart with their album Amnesiac.
  3. The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, Chapter XIII: “The weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”
  4. Thirteen Days, The Movie. John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  5. Friday the 13th in Port Dover, Ontario.
  6. The song “13” by Big Star.
  7. The 13 Principles of Jewish Faith.
  8. 13th Street Wines.
  9. The thirteenth man. How the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost the 2009 Grey Cup.
  10. June 13th, 1913. The New York Yankees win their 13th game of year after losing 36 games.
  11. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery and segue to the great Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013.
  12. Steve Nash. Dan Marino. Wilt Chamberlain. Mats Sundin. Godello.
  13. 13” the name of the new album by Black Sabbath.

Nice list. Of even greater importance is choosing some wine for the fitful 13th day of June and for Father’s Day on the weekend that follows. Thirteen wines ‘ere Friday the 13th, for and with dad.

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012

Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (57349, $12.95, WineAlign) LCBO General List

Give this vibrant crush of boyish red fruit a slight chill and with this pinnacle ideal vintage, at this ridiculously right price, go hither and convince a world of Gamay naysayers to get on board. Never mind the many years of “uninspired, drenched and tired” Gamay beach songs and tired voyages. Never mind the bad rap and out of tune harmonies thrust upon the world by dull vintages and bulk fruit. This CdC Gamay continues to breach the value quotient. Here is fresh, pure, unadulterated adult’s juice. It cruises from harbour with a clove-studded orange spritz and sets out past a rocky jetty to open seas. “Sail on, sail on sailor.”  Tasted June 2014  @MBosc

Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Leyda Valley, Chile  (371138, $14.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

So very peppery and Ají Cristal notes come from this warm weathered Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, indicating a Leyda Valley specificity that can’t be denied. So much unctuous character swallows whole the herbiage and schmaltz, as does the rapid fire acidity. Powerful SB, not subtle, not understated. There is no shortage of fruit, with nettles and a volcano in current eruption. It’s as if it would plead, “spider got eight legs and I got two. This guitar got six strings, what about you, well, what do you got?” So much going on, with more palate tingling white pepper, bending notes and angles. Jacks from ballad to wailing guitar, from rhapsodic to metallic. A Sauvignon Blanc with fly farm blues. I think it has an appeal to a red wine drinker who wants to drink a big white and I think it will age quite well, something like five to seven more years.   Tasted May 2014  @WoodmanWS

Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages 2012, Ac, Beaujolais, France (325134, $15.30, WineAlign) LCBO General List

When this Villages Millésime was mentioned for the purpose of offering a contrast to Ponciago’s La Réserve, it was honestly assessed as having “paint and tar notes.” When considered on its own merit it’s all about softness, perfume and poise. Pure red berry fruit just seems encased in a web of gossamer texture, it’s that pleasant to drink. Though it may lack the stuffing of La Réserve and Les Hauts Du Py, at $15 and change this is the real deal in Beaujolais. Even more impressive in consideration to the challenges of the vintage.  Tasted June 2014  @WoodmanWS

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (640516, $16.95, WineAlign)

Clone 809 strikes again. The pioneering Bosc family tells the usual oak suspects to stay clear of their pure St. David’s Bench meets Seven and Seven Vineyard fruit so the intensity of flowers and blanketing minerality can speak with utmost clarity. Never mind all that, this ’12 is the most tropical Chardonnay Musqué yet made by CdC. Its heart is a drum, “free as a driving wheel, circling around your iron will.” OK, so that Seven and Seven soil makes for alloy heaven. Just ring this clone and she will be at your beck and call.  Tasted May 2014  @MBosc

Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (361212, $18.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES May 24, 2014 release

Bonarda is on the rise and threatening to challenge Malbec in Mendoza, especially when it poses with such an obvious, rich and cakey Andean attitude. This example is clearly culled from a state of the art production facility because despite the slightly funky, gritty, tense and nervous layering and radio fuzz, it shows such a polished quality. Picked & mixed by real humans, this is varietal desert euphoria paradise, full of plum drive and chocolate coating.  Tasted May 2014  @Oenophilia1

Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010, Burgundy, France (375428, $18.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 21, 2014 release

The Grahier is an exhilarating, extremely arid, purposed blend of Pinot Noir (60 per cent) and Chardonnay (40). Though technically Extra Brut (less than 6 g/L residual sugar) this highly stylish Crémant teases with a perceived ripe orchard fruit sweetness. Versatility comes across in every spice and toast-driven bubble, for a cocktail pour, to blend into a cocktail or to match a wide range of dinner flavours. So useful and so smart. Offers up unparalleled value in Bourgogne sparkling.  Tasted June 2014  @Oenophilia1

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (591305, $19.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Malivoire presents a Pinot Gris in good temper, better balance and even greater controlled anxiety to add grit on top of the sweet, spicy pepper and lightly pickled palate. Really approachable, workable and elastic in extended length.  Tasted May 2014  @MalivoireWine

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2011, Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007

From left to right: Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2011, Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007

Creekside Estates Laura’s Red 2010, Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (117906, $19.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Wonderfully balanced blend with a bit of wood spice, plenty of good character and tannin. Tense fruit, layered and tight. Tighter than I last tasted it. Must be the accumulation. From my earlier, February 2014 note: It’s funny, more than any other wine tasted, this Laura has that Niagara varnish other Creekside reds seem not to possess. “Stock up in the big years” suggests Matt Loney, and “consolidate in the tougher ones.” It could be argued that you can make more interesting wines in the lean years but this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot lays a claim to seriousness, if needing at least three years to settle down. There is much cassis, sweet oak, iodine and a milk/dark chocolate swirl. Complexity for sure if just a bit huge within its own skin.  Last tasted May 2014  @CreeksideWine

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) On the card at Barque Smokehouse  @barquebbq

Look, I get it. Wine is made from grapes so why command a host of other fruits to offer context for aromas and tastes? Just have a moment with Steve Byfield’s “virtual” Viognier 2012. Virtual tree meets stone fruit. Smells just like a ripe peach. The flavour bears an uncanny resemblance to apricots. Virtual my Equus africanus asinus. The winery is virtual, the Viognier anything but. Speaks a Condrieu varietal truth by way of Niagara’s Redfoot vineyard. Carries a soil-driven, mineral-flecked, microscopically-oxidized metal tang so essential to invigorating Viognier. Blessed stuff from a Shona’s humble hands.  Tasted twice, March and June 2014  @NyaraiCellars

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012, Burgundy, France (276436, $22.05, WineAlign) LCBO General List

The Champs Royaux from mainly purchased fruit may be the runt of the Fèvre litter but it’s no austere duck soup and this despite the challenging vintage. Chalk another win for organic viticulture, here again worked to great effect. The practice encourages acidity levels to consistent ends aligned with ripe fruit and year in, year out betterment of the wines. The ’12 Champs Royaux exudes the idea of classic unoaked and flinty Chablis, as well as seawater and the smell of a lit halogen bulb. Elemental without being metallic, it blinks from a citrus flash before finishing balmy and warm.  Tasted June 2014  @BourgogneWines

Thirty Bench Red 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (320986, $24.00, WineAlign)

The consistency and subtlety in red wine of the earth in this perennially approachable Bench wine can’t be overestimated. Really high quality red purity is ascertained from this blend, its spicy, tangy, moving parts coming together to unionize the fruit. Just enough tension to keep traffic moving, with Merlot really doing its yeoman’s work, Cabernet Franc as sweet and expressive as it can be without going over to the shaken, splintered and mocha chocolate dark side. This is always red and red-fruited. Ready, willing and will offer pleasure for five to seven years.  Tasted May 2014  @ThirtyBench

Smith Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California, USA (363556, $39.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

Holy reductive toast Napa man. Aromas of buttered toast, glade, duck fat and pencil graphite, which I must say is one stellar note. Flavours of ripe Mutsu (specifically) apple and a resinous chew of late autumn sweet forest needles. Yes the toast is high but so is the quality. Don’t blame the barrel, he’s just the messenger. A great Chardonnay for shellfish and molluscs of the briny kind. Linger on in your golden yellow eyes.  Tasted May 2014  @SmithMadrone

Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Semillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (371484, $47.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES June 7, 2014 release

A lifelong search for great Sémillon is fraught with peaks and valleys. Finding greatness is so rare it’s blue. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales beckons for a rush to strike gold. Many roads lead nowhere and others, like the dusty lane up to Brokenwood’s Maxwell Vineyard, lead to OZ. This young one has barely broken bread, or even a sweat. Sémillon of primary concern, like a tank sample. Varietal beauty as a cryogenically frozen specimen inundated by the table, the whole periodic table and nothing but the table. Guided by a laser beam of focus, great intent and expectations. Bob’s your uncle this David to the world’s white wine Goliaths. Son of racing studs and mares. Wow Sémillon. Not a faint moment about or in it.  Tasted May 2014  @Brokenwood

Good to go!

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